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[long beep] [Rafael Pi Roman with music paying in background]: Artist and architect Maya Lin. [Maya Lin with music playing in the background]: A lot of my work has been at times deemed Zen or very Asian in feeling. I'm acutely aware of falling into an aesthetic trap, and I want to really explore that. And I really don't want to fall into the trap of making something that looks Asian style. [Pi Roman with music playing in the background]: And a tribute to the late Jane Jacobs. [Unidentified man's voice with music playing in the background]: [inaudible] Jane Jacobs, this woman without a portfolio, without credentials, said by golly I'll take on Robert Moses. And you know what? There is no such thing as a lower Manhattan expressway. [Unidentified man's voice with music playing in the background]: What we can say is that "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" is probably the most important book written about cities in the 20th century. [Unidentified man's voice with jackhammer, police siren, and other city noises in the background]: New York,
one voice at a time. [city noises] [Unidentified woman's voice with city noises in the background]: New York Voices. [Unidentified man's voice]: "New York Voices" is made possible by the members of Thirteen. Additional funding by Michael T. Martin, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown. [Pi Roman]: Welcome to "New York Voices." I'm Rafael Pi Roman. Tonight we'll look at two women who, in very different ways, have left their mark on the city. Later in the program we'll explore the legacy of the late writer activist Jane Jacobs, who almost single handedly saved lower Manhattan from being cut in half by a six lane highway. But we begin with architect Maya Lin, most famous for designing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. Lin's current project is creating a new home for the Museum of the Chinese in the Americas, an institution founded 26 years ago to chronicle the history of Chinatown. [music playing] [music palying] [Unidentified woman with music playing in the background]: The Museum of Chinese in America
started out as a neighborhood documentation project. It really came out of a time that we recognize as sort of the, the era of the Asian-American movement [Unidentifed woman with the sound of cars in the background]: in New York City. A lot of the traditional businesses were closing up. You had a lot of foreign investment coming into Chinatown. Lots of different people from different regions of China coming into the United States and really changing the landscape of Chinatown. And with the neighborhood documentation project these historians, photographers, social activists were basically trying to capture the history and the voices of people who represent this history before it passed on. [Unidentified man's voice]: I was a recent college graduate, and we thought that we can literally document the history of Chinatown over a 4 year period. And 26 years later, we're still trying to undocument, uh, unearth the history of, uhm, of this community. [Pi Roman]: Today that project has evolved into the only Chinese-American museum on the East Coast,
the Museum of the Chinese in the Americas, known as MOCA. [Unidentified man's voice]: In its earliest days we were very clear that we educate our, our own internal community members but also want to share that with the general public. [Unidentified woman's voice]: Chinese Americans for many, many years were not legally able to be naturalized citizens. So you can imagine, uh, the kind of, uhm, identity constructions that come along with that. You know, I fight, you know, in World War II, you know, to defend this country, but yet I still can never be a a citizen here. That happend for many, many years, from the Exclusion Acts in 1882 all the way up until, uh, World War II, when China was an ally of the U.S. So these feelings that Chinese Americans have had about China as their homeland, their identity as being Chinese, and their identity of being American has always taken on this sort of transnational character. [Pi Roman]: The museum's goal is to tackle that crisis of identity. This is addressed in the permanent exhibit entitled, "Where is Home?"
[Unidentified woman's voice]: We really want to touch upon certain themes like early migrations, faith, and customs, voices of women, and voices of our youth. The question that it poses is: "Where is home for Chinese in the Americas?" And it's a question that a lot of people can relate to. It resonates with many folks, especially in New York City. [Pi Roman]: The museum also provides facilities to teachers and students learning about American history. It offers a forum for emerging artists to display their work. [Unidentified woman's voice]: We were interested in the notion of trans nationalism among Chinese Americans. With globalization being, you know, such a force as it is today, you see more and more Chinese Americans, possibly first generation, even second generation, kind of looking towards China and, and asking themselves what their role is in, you know, the new politics of the day. [music palying] [Unidentified woman's voice with music palying in the background]: It's always been a museum
about divergent communities trying to understand one another, preserving, you know, relics of our history, but always looking towards the future, and always looking beyond the borders of Chinatown. [Pi Roman]: The museum is currently in the process of expanding and relocating to a 7,500 square foot space just north of Canal Street. The new building is expected to be completed by the fall of 2007. [Pi Roman with music playing in the background]: MOCA has hired renowned artist and architect Maya Lin to create the new museum space. As a student at Yale, Lynn designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. While highly controversial at the time, the memorial has become one of the most celebrated monuments in America. Working and living in New York City, her local projects have included the ceiling timepiece in Penn Station and the lobby of the Rockefeller Foundation headquarters. The daughter of immigrants, Lin was the natural choice to develop a modern interior design that would honor the past and reflect the changing cultural landscape. [Unidentified man's voice]: Maya wanted to give something back to the community, and that, you know, utilizing her skills that, uhm, it
was a perfect match. [Unidentified woman's voice]: We really hope that Maya will be able to convey with her design this idea of, you know, respect for the old but always looking towards the new. [Unidentifed woman's voice with music playing in the background]: It will really be designed in such a way that connotes these ideas that we have about the Chinese-American experience. That Chinese culture is something that is new and developing and evolving. That it is not ensconced in this ancient traditional box. [Pi Roman with music playing and woman's voice in the background]: I met with Maya live at her studio in Soho to discuss her preliminary designs for the new museum. [Pi Roman]: Miss Lin, you turned down some of your other projects [Maya Lin]: Right. [Pi Roman]: to design MOCA, and [Lin speaking over Pi Roman]: Yeah. [Pi Roman]: you cut your rate to do it. What drew you so strongly to this project? [Lin]: I think two things. I think one I've realized that in this country you really haven't dealt with the history of Chinese Americans in, uh, on a national level, and I think MOCA is now poised moving into this new, new building to be able to
tell that history. And I think having two young kids, having seen, actually I think Bill Moyers' piece on becoming American, the Chinese-American experience, it really made me realize how much, how important it is that Americans in general as well as Chinese Americans really realize how long the legacy of Chinese Americans have been in this country, how they have literally been in some respects, one one could say, the slaves of the West building the railroads, the amount of really horrible racism that they went through. And I, I think it's just people being aware that we have been here and really contributed and can be as American as anyone else, but perhaps because of the way we look maybe we're always going to be asked where are you from, even though we could be second, third, fourth generation. But that, I, I'm really, it was so easy a decision to say yes, uhm, when MOCA called me in to do
this. [Pi Roman]: Now the founders of MOCA, uh, had as one of its goals to break down the stereotypes [Lin]: Right. [Pi Roman]: of Chinese people, of Chinese culture. Is breaking down stereotypes also one of the goals in the design for MOCA? [Lin]: Well, I think consciously from the very beginning obviously a lot of my work has been at times deemed zen or very Asian in feeling. I sometimes wonder, because I'm coming out of certain aesthetics: Scandinavian design, Shaker design, '50s modernism, if I weren't Chinese would they have attached those labels? Would they instead have said, "Are you a minimalist?" So I'm looking at everything from restaurants to other museums to, uhm, things that have been called Asian in design, because you really, I don't want to become a stereotype in this. In fact, like I, I'm acutely aware of falling into an aesthetic trap, and I want to really explore that as far as why is this Asian looking. And maybe I really don't want to fall into the
trap of making something that looks Asian style. This is a museum that will bridge Chinatown and Soho, once again old and new. We're going to be stripping it bare to the absolute joy, so you begin to see the old building itself, the old structure, which probably is 100 years old. On top of that we'll be, uhm, exposing all the stone work in the basement as you come up in that courtyard. And so the, the blending is it's much more almost about an inner [Lin speaking over car horn in background]: layer that's older, [Lin]: and then surrounded by a more modern skin which probably will announce to the city that this is a museum. This is a new museum that, that will really take you through a history, a timeline of, of the Chinese-American experience. [Pi Roman]: Now you, both your parents [Lin]: Right. are immigrants from China. [Lin speaking over Pi Roman]: Yeah. They, they, yes. [Pi Roman]: They came in 1949 to escape the communist takeover. [Lin]: They met in the States, but my father was from Beijing, my mother from Shanghai. And they
came out at that wave of, of, of immigrants, whereas there have been many numerous waves throughout the eras. Some coming from certain parts of China, uhm, going more to the Pacific Coast, others coming to New York. And that there's a really deep history through the 100 or so years of, of these, these waves of immigrations, and I think yes my parents were both from kind of the, the situation when communism took over in China. [Pi Roman]: But you were born in Ohio. [Lin]: I was born in Ohio, uhm, born and raised. Uhm. So a lot of my friends would say that I'm, I'm probably the, the whitest person they've ever met. [Pi Roman laughing] [Lin]: I think... [Pi Roman]: Now you've said, uh, that you grew up, although it's pretty unusual for Chinese-American families, you grew up pretty oblivious to your Chinese heritage. [Lin speaking over Pi Roman]: Right. [Pi Roman]: How come? [Lin]: I think my brother and I were the only Chinese Americans. Uhm, I, I remember there was one friend of mine who was half American, half Chinese. And there really wasn't a community. And I think when there isn't a community and you're the only person:
one, you're looking at every other child's face and you think you look like that. You don't realize you're different. And I, I think it was actually, it's a college town, Ohio University, and I think in an academic world where your color, uhm, your race, and your sex was not as important, I think, as what, what was in your mind. And so I was pretty happily buffered from that. I mean I think I've, I have encountered since that time, uhm, certain situations which, you know, it's bound to happen at times. Uh, maybe the most public one was the one in Washington, uhm. But, but I think even... [Pi Roman speaking over Lin]: During the Vietnam memorial. [Lin]: During the Vietnam memorial. And the fact that I didn't even realize it would be an issue. And it took me about 8 months being in Washington before I, I kind of asked the veterans, uhm, "Is this a problem?" And they had been trying to protect me from it. They hadn't told me about the letters that were coming in, uhm. [Pi Roman]: What did the letters say? [Lin]: Uhm, why would you let a gook design this? [Pi Roman]: Wow. [Lin]: I mean I remember a reporter saying, "Well, don't you think it's
ironic that the war was an Asian war and you're of Asian descent?" And I just point blank said, "Well, that's irrelevant." And I, you know it took me nine months to realize I might see it that way. But that's not how a lot of people saw it. [Pi Roman]: You've also said that your work exists, often exists in the boundary [Lin speaking over Pi Roman]: Right, right. [Pi Roman]: between East and West. How does that metaphor work? [Lin]: I, I [Pi Roman speaking over Lin]: [inaudible] [Lin]: think this metaphor is almost perfect for, uh, for what I do in my work. That being Chinese American you're of of both cultures. And I think this entire building will be on the edge or in, an in between. Or perhaps it's going to step in certain areas more into one world and then the next. But that this becomes almost, uh, uh, just an incredible, uhm, opportunity from an architectural design point of view to really explore that borderline situation. And I think it's really sometimes you feel you're in between; other times you feel you're part of both. And I think that's something
we'll be exploring throughout. [Pi Roman]: Jane Jacobs, who died last April, was the author of "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," a book that changed the way we look at urban life in the United States. In the 1960s Jacobs' ideas helped turn public opinion against government housing projects, urban renewal plans, and the multi-lane highways that were destroying city neighborhoods. [guitar music playing] [Unidentified man's voice with guitar playing in the background]: What we can say is that "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" is probably the most important book written about cities in the 20th century. She was writing about what made a neighborhood interesting and safe, and that was in complete contradiction to what planners were saying. [flute playing] [Unidentified woman's voice reading the words of Jane Jacobs, with flute playing in the background]: Some things are said so often that nobody thinks of what they mean anymore. For instance, for years we've been hearing take the children off the streets. Off the streets and into where? [Unidentified man's voice with birds chirping in the background]: They
wanted to have wide boulevards for cars. They wanted grass around all the houses. They wanted to separate uses. Jane Jacobs says no, no. It may not look good to your aesthetic sensibilities, but this jumble of older buildings actually yields remarkable results. [Unidentified woman's voice reading the words of Jane Jacobs]: Suppose we actually let the sidewalks do the job that they can do best. And suppose we stop trying to provide poor substitutes for them. [Unidentified man's voice with music and street noise in the background]: In the '50s there was a very widely felt belief that the city was a mess and the only thing to do was just clean it up, clear it away, and start over again. Start all over again with stark towers and open space, thinking that would all be better for people. [Unidentified man's voice from a newsreel]: A comparison of yesterday and today makes plain the modern miracle in housing that has taken place. Here in the Gas House Area we are on a street that today is just a memory, transformed by modern construction.
What was once a rundown, dying section of the great city of New York has been recreated, and today this section is a beautiful park-like community. [Unidentified man's voice]: Well, in fact, it generally was not better for people. Most of the time, it didn't work. And Jane Jacobs saw the evidence that it didn't work and pulled it together into this extraordinary book, which changed the way the world saw all of this. [Unidentified man's voice with guitar music playing in the background]: It's this wonderful complex web of things that makes the city what it is. This ocean. This organic sea of different things mixed together that Jacobs felt the beginning of every morning when she walked out of her own door at 555 Hudson Street. [Unidentified man's voice with music playing and birds chirping in the background]: Jane Jacobs was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, does not go to college, comes to New York when she's only 18 years old. Really makes a living as a secretary, as an assistant. Then she goes to work for "The Architectural
Forum" in the 1950s. In which case she begins to look at the way cities work. [Jason Epstein with street noise in the background]: I heard from somebody, I forget who it was, that, uh, she was writing a book. When you say I edited that book, there wasn't very much to edit. It was pretty much exactly that manuscript that went into print. I knew that book was going to be around forever and change things, not immediately but over time. You can always tell. [Unidentified man's voice with street noise in the background]: The Death and Life of Great American Cities" is common wisdom today. Forty-five years ago it was not. Forty-five years ago all these very simple, logical, natural ideas were actually radical thinking. [guitar playing] [Unidentified man's voice with guitar playing in the background]: Robert Moses was the greatest builder America has ever seen. Robert Moses was this immensely powerful public official who built more roads than anybody in American history. He built Lincoln Center. He built the 1939 and 1964 World's Fairs. He built all the bridges. He just built, built, built, built, built. And almost nobody could stop Robert Moses.
With Jane Jacobs, this woman without a portfolio, without credentials, said by golly I'll take on Robert Moses. And you know what? There is no such thing as a Lower Manhattan Expressway. [Epstein with birds chirping in the background]: The insane idea was to build a six lane expressway from the Holland Tunnel from New Jersey to the Manhattan Bridge over there to Long Island and cut Manhattan in half at the waist, from which it would never have recovered. And when after 12 years the neighborhood was successful in stopping it, they planted a little tree. And now it's a medium sized tree. Not a very beautiful tree, but that's what it stands for: the survival of a great neighborhood. Thanks to Jane. [Unidentified man's voice]: When the fight was going on about a football stadium for the Jets on the west side of Manhattan, I was amazed to see that the people promoting it were talking about how it would also have tucked into the bottom lots of little shops and bars and restaurants and would promote the
vibrant street life of New York. Well, what better indication of how Jane Jacobs has entered the mainstream than to see people think that they can sell a huge stadium project by claiming it is somehow consistent with Jane Jacobs ideas? [Unidentified man's voice with guitar playing and birds chirping in the bachground]: Did Jane Jacobs lose or win? [Unidentified man's voice with guitar playing and birds chirping in the background]: Well, you know, she probably would say she lost, uh, in the sense that we still have a country that's pretty much built around ideas that she despises. On the other hand, wouldn't any of us be thrilled to think that we have the influence that she did, that we changed the thought of millions of people? So I would have to say that Jane Jacobs certainly was a winner more than most of us are ever winners. [Pi Roman]: We now turn to a company that has been documenting the city's changing landscape for more than a century. The Sanborn Company published its first fire insurance maps in the 1860s, and recently its aerial photography of Manhattan was incorporated into Google's online mapping
software. [Unidentified man's voice with guitar playing in the background]: When you look at those maps you start to ask yourself what was life like at that time. You can see how the homes were lined up. You can see how the streets began to develop. You can see where the chapel was located. And you actually are seeing the history just by turning the pages of each of those maps one after the other, after the other. [Unidentified woman's voice]: Fire insurance maps first came to New York City in approximately 1849, 1850. The fire in 1835 was in lower Manhattan, on the east side of Manhattan. And it wiped out blocks and blocks and blocks; because, you see, there were no fire departments then, and fire was a very, very terrible element in, in living in the city. [Unidentified man's voice with guitar playing in the background]: Daniel Alfred Sanborn founded his company in 1867 trying to create for insurance companies fire insurance company maps. The more detailed the map, at least at that time, the easier it would be for the insurance company to assess the fire insurance risk. They could tell how close the structures were to one another. Was it a
wooden structure? They could tell the nature of the neighborhood within which the structure stood. Those sorts of things were the kinds of things that would help them at a glance to begin to assess is this a high risk area, is it a high risk structure, and how am I going to go about deciding whether I want to accept that risk or not when I insure it. These maps showed everything from what was it made of all the way down to is there a chicken coop behind the structure. Is there a doghouse in some instances? [Unidentified woman's voice with guitar playing in background]: I'm an urban archaeologist, and just recently on East 21st Street a developer was about to build over two former house lots. So I was asked to do a study to see what might be there. Uhm, this is the block of my concern, right here. It's between 2nd and 1st Avenues, and between 21st and 22nd Street. There is nothing built on them in 1849. Then it was becoming an urban environment in this part of the city. These little,
uhm, dash lines show sort of a meadowland and or a wetland. The elevated line had come in in the 18, early 1870s, and it becomes easier to get here and get to work. And obviously, it develops. If you were to walk down the block, you might not think that things have changed that much. But if you could take an aerial view and go into the backyard of the block, you would see that more had gone on behind. There were more brick structures behind it. There are back houses that weren't there earlier. What these could be could be a back porch. They could be, you know, like a mudroom or they could be a water closet. [Unidentified man's voice with music playing in background]: The heyday of the Sanborn Map Company was really the roaring '20s. And the company had had over 1,000 employees. [Female Sanborn Map Company employee with music playing in the background]: I started working for Sanborn Map Company in 1945. When I first came, they, it was really quite old fashioned. They also have pictures showing how they started it. We had maybe 15 different departments: a finishing department, pasting department,
uhm, drafting department, surveyors department. [Unidentified man's voice with music playing in the background]: The Sanborn walk was an intentionally measured pace. It was intended to be about 30 inches. It was considered astonishingly accurate. Their reporters, they had been shot at by smugglers who didn't understand why somebody would be sketching their, their particular shack at the time. There were a lot of stories about them being picked up during wartime as potential spies. [Unidentified woman's voice with music in the background]: This is the 1920 Sanborn after it's been pasted up to update it to 1956. This is when all the paste-ups come in, the pages get thinner, and any changes are shown with these pasted on pieces of paper. The interesting thing here is that the two lots have not changed; they're still brick dwellings. Uhm, many of these earlier brick structures, the dwellings have been, uhm, replaced. This is now an eight story apartment building. There's a garage behind it or below it. And, of course, there are the other garages. The building,
the block has changed. [Unidentified man's voice]: By the 1950s fire insurance companies were learning other and different ways, really, to, to assess fire risk at that time, and they were beginning to move away from those maps. [Female Sanborn Map Company employee with music in the background]: When they came up and they said to everyone in the department put down your brushes and you can go home because we're now closed, nobody would get up and leave. They practically had to [laughter] pull them out of their chairs, because nobody wanted to leave. They'd worked here so many years, and they loved it so much. [guitar music] [Male Sanborn Map Company employee with music in the background]: Around 2003 corporate headquarters was relocated to Colorado Springs. We have offices throughout the country from Portland, Oregon; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Saint Louis; Charlotte. Recently, Sanborn Map has done aerial photography and planimetric mapping for New
York City. We work with satellite imagery. We do a lot of classification. [Piano music] [Piano music with the sound of a Sanborn Map Company employee working in the background] [Male Sanborn Map Company employee with music playing in the background]: Helen [Inaudible] works in the finishing department for the Sanborn Map Company. The traditional business of updating a fire insurance map has been dwindling over the years, and the reason for use of those maps in the hard copy format is the instant ability to look at a page and get the sense of exactly what the neighborhood is like. [Female Sanborn Map Company employee with music in the background]:I don't like black and white; I like color. That's it. And I think everybody feels the same thing, the same way, that they like to have it in color. [Unidentifed woman's voice with music in the background]: You are discovering something and seeing something that you may never have thought of, seeing something that, uhm, no one might ever have thought that you'd be interested in. And it is extremely exciting.
[Pi Roman with music in the background]: And that's it for this edition of "New York Voices." For more on this or any other "New York Voices" program, log onto our website at I'm Rafael Pi Roman. Thanks for watching. We'll see you next week. [guitar music] [Unidentified man's voice with music in background]: "New York Voices" is made possible by the members of Thirteen. Additional funding by Michael T. Martin, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown.
New York Voices
Episode Number
Maya Lin and Jane Jacobs
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Thirteen WNET
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Thirteen WNET (New York, New York)
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Episode Description
Tonight New York Voices looks at two women who have had a profound effect on our urban and cultural landscape. First, Rafael Pi Roman sits down with New-York based architect and artist Maya Lin, who first came to fame when she created the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial in Washington D.C. The daughter of immigrants, Lin discusses her personal ties to her latest project: designing a new home for New York's Museum of the Chinese in the Americas. We also pay tribute to the late Jane Jacobs, author and urban analyst whose philosophies on urban planning have made a lasting impact on how New York City functions and thrives. The segment features Columbia University historian Ken Jackson, New Yorker critic Paul Goldberger, and Jason Epstein, who was Jacobs' longtime editor. They reflect on Jacobs' legacy, including her successful fight in the 1960s against a six-lane highway that would have sliced through SoHo. We close with a story on the Sanborn Company, which has been documenting the city's changing landscape since the 1860s. Sanborn Maps, originally created for fire insurance companies, recorded nearly every detail of every block and sidewalk in New York, from fire hydrants to back porches. Recently, the company contributed aerial photography of Manhattan Island to Google's online mapping software.
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This item is part of the Chinese Americans section of the AAPI special collection.
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New York Voices is a news magazine made up of segments featuring profiles and interviews with New Yorkers talking about the issues affecting New York.
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To view the segment on Maya Lin and Chinatown, you can visit or jump to 00:01:52.
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