Maya Lin is an architect with an extraordinary ability to find the symbolic form that will reconcile all the conflicting elements of a public design brief. Most famously she did this in the Washington Vietnam memorial,

the wall vietnam memorial washington

that deep black scar in the earth that paralled the scar the war left in the American soul, its rising and descending wall graphing the US death toll. The Wall’s perfection was only underlined by the nearby Three Soldiers memorial and flag

three soldiers vietnam memorial
Jeff Kubina)

demanded by dissenters, its sentimental and anachronistic socialist realism unintentionally symbolising little more than the unresolved delusions and confusion of identity felt by many of the veterans of a futile war that should never have happened.

Maya Lin came to mind when we were writing about Herzog & de Meuron’s levitating Caixa Forum building because she also had built a levitating building, the adaptively reused cantilever barn

cantilever barn haley farm
yellow crayons)

that houses the Langston Hughes Library at Haley Farm.

langston hughes library haley farm

The barn contains a 5000-volume reference library on civil rights and children’s advocacy and a small book store.

Lin commented

“The idea was to maintain the integrity and character of the old barn yet introduce a new inner layer. The integration of old and new allowed me to leave exposed and untouched the main body of the building yet build the library within the existing structure.”

But elsewhere on the site is a much more extraordinary building by Lin. Hans Hollein made a splash, so to speak, early in his career

hans hollein aircraft carrier in landscape

with his image of an Aircraft Carrier City in Landscape. Maya Lin’s ship shape object in the landscape, while smaller, carries a greater symbolic burden than any aircraft carrier.

haley farm chapel

The Children’s Defense Fund, that owns Haley Farm and uses it as a training centre, is the type of organisation that puzzles and disturbs non-americans. Why is it necessary? Why doesn’t the government do it? And above all, why the insidious christian propaganda that permeates its publicity? It’s all as creepy as anything that ever came out of, say, Iran.

haley farm chapel

Perhaps most scary of all is the fact that it can build an indoctrination centre chapel of such potent symbolism.

Noah’s Ark is deep in the subconscious of all children brought up in even the most feeble christian tradition,

noahs ark bouncing castle
(Photo Timothy E Baldwin)

all those cute animals rescued by humans, and at this point in history, as we face the deluge brought on by our vanities, it has a peculiarly ambiguous and guilt laden resonance. The story of Noah’s Ark is probably the only part of christian mythology where there is any trace of human connection to the other life on this planet, the only hint that our actions have consequences for the other creatures we share it with.

haley farm= chapel
yellow crayons)

Can we hope that the symbolism of this building will somehow be adaptively reused to engender this sense of responsibility for all life in children that will in fifty years be facing a genuine apocalypse?