Market Your Firm like Maya Lin

Maya Lin Interpretive Bird Blind at the Sandy Delta Confluence Park by Troutdale Oregon on the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Photo found on Flickr,

Today we celebrate the impact of women in architecture with a profile on Maya Lin.

Did you know that 31 percent of architects in the United States are women, yet only 20 percent of architecture firm principals or partners in the U.S. are women?

At the Architect Marketing Institute, we exist to empower architects and designers through tools, training and resources so that no architect or designer will be at a disadvantage because of gender, race or any other factor.

Let’s take a look at a woman-owned firm in which the female principal has ‘leaned in' (as Sheryl Sandberg says) and impacted the world through projects that matter.

Empowering female designers like Maya Lin

Sharon Styer [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

Photo of Maya Lin by Sharon Styer [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

The Architect Marketing Institute recognizes the particular challenges that women face in establishing their own practices and works with many female architects, landscape architects, and interior designers to empower them to build robust, competitive practices that align with their personal values and aspirations, while allowing them to live the life they design.

This is a subject near and dear, so much so that we want to highlight role models, through our A Firm of Her Own designation. (Yes, inspired by Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Room of One’s Own.’)

Through this series of articles, we’ll analyze how these architects and designers have shaped our world through persistence and determination.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial designer Maya Lin has a Firm of Her Own, Maya Lin Studio. She forged a career and promoted healing at the same time. Through her particular journey, she sets a perfect example for how to contribute with projects that matter.

Crucial to her success with the Vietnam Memorial project, Lin focused on the feeling that her memorial was meant to invoke.

Because of her eye for important opportunities, Maya Lin has been able to take advantage of projects that make a difference in the world.

But she didn’t set out to get known, she got known by fulfilling her purpose.

Invest passion into projects

In this video Lin describes a difficult moment in her life when a Vietnam veteran looked her square in the face and insulted her design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

During her senior year at Yale, she won the blind competition for the design.

Her way to display names of lost veterans a black granite wall plunged in the earth as ‘a gash' (main title picture).

While debate roiled around her, Lin insisted that people would heal by facing death honestly.

Lin became the first female architect and youngest architect to design a memorial on Washington D.C.’s National Mall.

It happened because she followed her passion … and took it one step further, by acting on opportunities that eventually enabled her to become highly respected in the field.

This challenging and monumental first step in her career was only one of many in which she had the presence of mind to act on a major opportunity.

Fulfill your purpose

Years later, the activist-at-heart designed her last memorial ‘What is Missing?’, a virtual cemetery to raise awareness of the sixth mass plant and animal extinction.

Once again, she entered the project for a healing purpose. In November 2014, she won the 21st Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize for the memorial. The $300,000 award is presented annually to ‘a man or woman who has made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life.’

Lin designated the funds to develop the memorial and to ultimately sustain some of the world’s dearest species.

Maya Lin’s story inspires every architect and designer (female or male) to find her or his niche, and then get known for it.

Most importantly, architects can use their resources to land top projects that help achieve what is possible, even if the odds are stacked against them, as with Lin.

What's your story?

If you are a female architect and have a firm of your own, we'd love to hear your story.

Please leave it in the comments below!

2 comments on “Market Your Firm like Maya Lin

  1. Co Govers on said:

    I came to architecture late, as a second career. At 31 I entered the Delft Technical University as a new student, having finally found my path. At 38, by then a mother of 2 kids, I graduated as architect. After working in a well respected firm in my home town of Haarlem, the Netherlands for 3 years, I decided I wanted to work abroad. I applied for a job with a well respected firm in Barcelona and moved my family there. After 2 years I left to start my own firm, in Barcelona. I hired one of my fellow staff members at the Spanish firm, who’d been fired, and we started with a competition for a mosque in Dubai. We designed the first ever equal-access mosque and came second in the competition. The winning design was never built, and our mosque, the Ray of Light, became world famous for its beautiful flowing shapes and daring concept of separating male and female revelers only by a curtain of light. The mosque is on the cover of the latest book on modern mosques, because, in the words of the writer, it’s simply the most beautiful mosque of all the projects in the book.
    My firm, ZEST architecture, is now in its 8th year. We are the go-to firm for luxury residential real estate and sought after experts for restoration work and for sustainable architecture. Our work gets published in books and magazines throughout the world. We are now five architects, which is impressive, considering that I started my firm the year that Spain was hit by its worst economic crisis ever. I named my firm not after myself, but I named it ZEST, because architecture is about team work and I aim to inspire my team to put their very best into the work, not for personal glory, but because making good work brings happy and grateful clients that come back for more, and send us flowers and phone us up to say how deeply happy they are in their home. There is no better feeling than that.

    • Eric Bobrow on said:

      Co – Thank you for posting your personal story as a successful woman in architecture, and congratulations! We are proud that we helped you in some measure along your path, as you took direct action and implemented your marketing strategies as a member of the Architects Marketing Academy.

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