Cornelia Hahn Oberlander
20 June 1921
|Died||22 May 2021 (aged 99)|
|Alma mater||Smith College, Harvard|
|Awards||Order of Canada, American Society of Landscape Architects Medal, Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe Award, Governor General’s Medal in Landscape Architecture|
|Practice||Cornelia Hahn Oberlander Landscape Architects|
|Buildings||C. K. Choi Building, Vancouver Public Library, Northwest Territories Legislative Building, Canadian Chancery in Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Canada, Museum of Anthropology at UBC, Robson Square, and Vancouver Law Courts|
|Projects||Peacekeeping Monument, VanDusen Botanical Garden Visitors Center|
|Design||Canadian Government Pavilion, Children's Creative Centre and play area for Expo 67 in Montreal|
During her career she contributed to the designs of many high-profile buildings in both Canada and the United States, including the Robson Square and the Law Courts Complex in Vancouver, the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Chancery in Washington D.C., the Library Square at the Vancouver Public Library, the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, and Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly Building in Yellowknife.
Family and early life
Oberlander was born at Muelheim-Ruhr, Germany, on 20 June 1921, the daughter of Beate (Jastrow) and Franz Hahn. She was the niece of educationalist Kurt Hahn, the founder of Schule Schloss Salem in Germany, Gordonstoun in Scotland, and UWC Atlantic College in the UK; as well as the niece of Elisabeth Jastrow, the German-born American classical archaeologist.
A horticulturist who wrote gardening books for children, Beate Hahn fostered in her daughter a deep love and appreciation for nature from a young age. Since she had a garden bed when she was four years old and planted peas and corn, she knew the joy of growing. In an interview with Mechtild Manus, tracing the roots of her interests in landscape architecture, Oberlander stated "At the age of eleven... I studied a mural in the artist's studio showing the river Rhine and an imaginary town. When I asked the artist about the green spaces in this mural, she told me that these were parks. When I came home, I told my mother 'I want to make parks'. From there all my education was directed towards becoming a landscape architect."
When Oberlander was 18, being Jewish, her sister, her mother, and she escaped Nazi persecution after the "Kristallnacht" (Night of Broken Glass) pogrom in 1938 by fleeing to England. They emigrated to the United States in 1939.
Her mother had a truck farm in New Hampshire during the war, which Oberlander worked on. She had come to America with the hopes of exploring the professional educational opportunities that involved the creation of parks and green spaces, and pursued that objective in American colleges.
Higher education and later life
In 1944 Oberlander was awarded a BA degree from Smith College and, in 1947, she was among the first class of women awarded degrees in landscape architecture by Harvard. In her interview with Jenny Hall she stated, "When I went to Smith, women who wanted to become landscape architects went to the Cambridge School, a part of Harvard University, because at that time, women could not attend Harvard. But with the war that changed, and in 1943 I was one of the very first women to be admitted to the Harvard Graduate School of Design." She met her future husband, Peter Oberlander at a class picnic. Born in Vienna, he also had fled with his family from the Nazis in 1938. He was awarded a Ph.D. in regional planning from Harvard.
Oberlander began work with Louis Kahn and Oscar Stonorov in Philadelphia and then with landscape architect Dan Kiley in Vermont. She married her husband in 1953. They moved to Vancouver and would have three children. Her husband's professional career was as an architect and as Canada's first professor of Urban and Regional Planning.
She founded a small landscape architecture firm in Vancouver. Oberlander then became interested in the modern art movement led by B. C. Binning and Ned Pratt, which combined art and architecture to address the connections between urbanism and surrounding natural settings.
The early years of Oberlander's independent practice were dedicated to designing landscapes for low-income housing projects and playgrounds, the most famous of which is the Canadian Government Pavilion, Children's Creative Centre and play area for Expo 67 in Montreal. Her first playground, for a 1951 public housing project for architect Louis Kahn, included a vegetable garden and a fruit tree. For public housing in Maclean Park, she designed a playground. On Skeena Terrace, on the Lougheed Highway, she included vegetable gardens.
She later practiced on a more commercial scale, working with architects and other professionals from various disciplines to create aesthetic solutions for challenging projects. Before beginning a project she researched it thoroughly to ensure that her innovative schemes would be practical and long-lasting. Oberlander always approached a project from an environmental standpoint. In her Convocation Address for the acceptance of an honorary degree from Simon Fraser University she stated:
I dream of Green Cities with Green Buildings where rural and urban activities live in harmony... "Achieving a fit" between the built form and the land has been my dictum. This can only be done if all our design-related professions collaborate and thereby demonstrate co-operatively their relevance in meeting the enormous developmental challenges facing our increasingly crowded urban regions.
Her concern for the environment and for people in general, was further exemplified by her involvement with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on Mount Scopus. Oberlander and her husband, Peter, visited Israel for a congress with the International Federation of Landscape Architects in 1962. According to the Jewish Independent, the Oberlanders were in Israel to study irrigation systems, but they "fell more deeply in love with the land and its people". The Oberlanders engaged in and spearheaded many activities to benefit the university from 1979 on, including: setting up a Canadian Studies Program, bringing boxes of Canadian textbooks to Israel for donation to the university, developing a botanical garden, working with a team of planners to assist the community of Ashkalon in accommodating settlers from North Africa and Georgia, and advocating for the restoration of historic buildings on the campus. The Oberlanders were honored for their contributions by the Vancouver chapter of Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2004 and they visited Israel many times in their philanthropic efforts.
Oberlander received the "rare and exceptional honour" of being elected to both the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects' College of Fellows (in 1981) and the American Society of Landscape Architects' Council of Fellows (in 1992).
In 1999–2000, she contributed her expertise to the Vancouver Art Gallery for its "Out of This Century" exhibition, guiding patrons through the selection of visual art pieces that were chosen from the permanent collection of the gallery (by Oberlander and five other Vancouverites) to reflect and represent the city art scene through the decades.
Peter Oberlander died on 27 December 2008.
Awards and honours
- 1981, Fellow, Canadian Society of Landscape Architects
- 1990 Member of the Order of Canada
- 1991 Honorary law degree, University of British Columbia
- 1992, Fellow, American Society of Landscape Architects
- 1992 Commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada
- 1995 Allied Medal, Royal Architectural Institute of Canada
- 2001 Honorary law degree, Ryerson University
- 2002 Honorary law degree, Smith College
- 2004 Honoree of Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem fundraising gala
- 2005 Honorary law degree, Simon Fraser University
- 2008 Honorary law degree, McGill University
- 2008 Honorary law degree, Dalhousie University
- 2009 Officer of the Order of Canada
- 2011 Awarded the Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe Award of the International Federation of Landscape Architects
- 2012 Awarded the American Society of Landscape Architects Medal
- 2014 Honorary law degree, University of Calgary
- 2015 Margolese National Design for Living Prize
- 2016 Inaugural recipient of the Governor General's Medal in Landscape Architecture
- 2016 Member of the Order of British Columbia
- 2017 Companion of the Order of Canada
- 2017 LAF Medal of the Landscape Architecture Foundation
- The Cornelia Hahn Oberlander International Landscape Architecture Prize  was created by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) to honor the works of Cornelia and her dedication to the profession of Landscape Architecture. Additionally, the TCLF named this prize in Oberlander's name to recognize her efforts to address social, environmental, and ecological issues through her design work. This prize will be awarded every other year, beginning in 2021. This is the only award in the profession of Landscape Architecture that includes a $100,000.00 prize.
Oberlander was an honorary member of the Architectural Institute of British Columbia. The Canadian Centre for Architecture held an exhibition Cornelia Hahn Oberlander: Ecological Landscapes in 2006, which featured material from the Cornelia Hahn Oberlander Archive at the CCA and photographs by Etta Gerdes. She was included in Chatelaine Magazine's Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015 listing.
Alongside Phyllis Lambert, Blanche Lemco van Ginkel, and Denise Scott Brown, she was one of four prominent architects profiled in the 2018 documentary film, City Dreamers, as women who shaped the world we live in.
Oberlander produced landscape designs for private residences, playgrounds, urban parks, and other public spaces, as well as major projects including landscaping for:
- 70 playgrounds in Canada and helping to establish the National Task Force on Play
- 18th and Bigler Street playground, Philadelphia
- Cherokee Apartments, Philadelphia
- Philadelphia International Airport landscape
- Smith College Master Plan, 1997
- Ottawa City Hall, with Moshe Safdie, 1989-1994
- Vancouver Park Board natural log seating on Vancouver beaches, 1964
- New York Times Building atrium that includes an evergreen carpet of sedges, ferns, and several birch trees with architect Renzo Piano and H M White Site Architects, 2002
- Hebrew University of Jerusalem botanical garden, 2004
- "green rooftop" on the Canadian embassy in Berlin, with Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects, 1999-2005
- C. K. Choi Building for the Institute of Asian Research at UBC, with Matsuzaki Wright Architects, 1996
- Vancouver Public Library, with Moshe Safdie Architects, 1995
- Vancouver General Hospital burn unit garden
- Northwest Territories Legislative Building, Yellowknife, with Matsuzaki/Wright Architects, 1995
- Canadian Chancery in Washington, D.C., with Arthur Erickson Architects, 1989
- National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, with Moshe Safdie Architects, 1988
- Co-authored Trees in the City, with Ira Bruce Nadel and Lesley R. Bohm, 1977
- Museum of Anthropology at UBC, Vancouver, landscapes including its rear reflection pool, with Arthur Erickson Architects and Stantec Architecture, 1976 and from 2003
- Peacekeeping Monument, Reconciliation, 1992
- Robson Square landscape architecture and stramps and the Law Courts government complex in Vancouver, with Arthur Erickson Architects, 1974–1983 and from 2003
- VanDusen Botanical Garden, with architect Peter Busby, Visitors Center project, with Perkins and Will, 2011
- Cornelia Hahn Oberlander: Ecological Landscapes, Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal (2006)
- Canadian Megaform, Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal (2014-2015)
- New Ways of Living: Jewish Architects in Vancouver 1955-1975 (online), The Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia, Vancouver (2016)
- Bauhaus (Canada) 101, University of Manitoba School of Art Gallery, Winnipeg (2020)
- Herrington, Susan (2014). Cornelia Hahn Oberlander: Making the Modern Landscape. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press. pp. ix, 2, 11. ISBN 978-0-8139-3459-4.
- Prominent Canadian Landscape Architect To Speak At U.Va. School Of Architecture Archived 4 September 2006 at the Wayback Machine, University of Virginia News, 9 March 2001, retrieved 2 July 2010.
- Manus, Mechtild (2006). Bilder kanadischer Landschaftsarchitecktur/Picturing Landscape Architecture. Munchen: Callwey. pp. 60, 96. ISBN 978-3-76671-6699.
- "Acclaimed landscape architect's Oral History", The Cultural Landscape Foundation 3–5 August 2008.
- "Acclaimed landscape architect honored", Smith e-news June 2006.
- Hall, Jenny. "A Pioneer with an Eye for Innovation". Smith Alumnae Quarterly - Fall 2004. Archived from the original on 22 April 2007.
- "H. Peter Oberlander Obituary". Vancouver Sun. 3 January 2009. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
- Cornelia Hahn Oberlander Fonds Retrieved 14 April 2020.
- Oberlander, Cornelia Hahn (1966). "Space for Creative Play". Journal of Canadian Landscape Architects.
- Weder, Adele (14 March 2016). "Margolese Prize Winner Cornelia Oberlander on Landscapes, Cities and Healing Souls". The Tyee.
- SFU honorary degree recipients' convocation addresses
- Berger, Kyle (13 February 2004). "Honors for Oberlanders". Jewish Independent. Archived from the original on 3 February 2006.
- Canadian Society of Landscape Architects/Association des architectes paysagistes du Canada (2003). "CSLA/AAPC College of Fellows 2003 Investiture Ceremony booklet" (PDF). p. . Retrieved 18 March 2017.
- Christensen, Layne (27 December 1999). "Architecture meets art in new exhibit". North Shore News. Archived from the original on 29 November 2003. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
- "H. Peter Oberlander Obituary". Vancouver Sun. 3 January 2009. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
- Vancouver landscape architecture pioneer Cornelia Oberlander dead at 99
- "Governor General of Canada Honours: Find a Recipient". Retrieved 18 March 2017.
- University of British Columbia. "Honorary Degrees Conferred by UBC". Retrieved 18 March 2017.
- American Society of Landscape Architects. "ASLA Fellows Database". Retrieved 18 March 2017.
- "Cornelia Hahn Oberlander". Archived from the original on 3 June 2016.
- "Cornelia Hahn Oberlander Receives Honorary Degree". Retrieved 25 May 2021.
- "Margolese National Design for Living Prize". Margolese National Design for Living Prize.
- "Cornelia Hahn Oberlander receives inaugural Governor General's Medal in Landscape Architecture". Archived from the original on 26 April 2016. Retrieved 26 April 2016.
- "2016 Recipient: Cornelia Hahn Oberlander – Vancouver : Order of BC".
- "TCLF ANNOUNCES OBERLANDER PRIZE". Landscape Architecture Magazine. 2 October 2019.
- "About TCLF | The Cultural Landscape Foundation". www.tclf.org.
- Cornelia Hahn Oberlander: Ecological Landscapes Retrieved 14 April 2020.
- "Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015". 27 December 2015.
- Bozikovic, Alex. "City Dreamers: Portraits of four women who shaped the world we live in"".. The Globe and Mail
- "Cornelia Oberlander biography".
- New York Times Building, New York, New York]
- "Battle over "stramp" accessibility upgrades in British Columbia takes shape". Archinect. Retrieved 30 August 2020.
- Weder, Adele (14 March 2016). "Margolese Prize Winner Cornelia Oberlander on Landscapes, Cities and Healing Souls". The Tyee. Retrieved 30 August 2020.
- Susan Herrington. Cornelia Hahn Oberlander: Making the Modern Landscape. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014. ISBN 978-0-81393-459-4
- Charles A. Birnbaum and Stephanie S. Foell. Shaping the American Landscape: New Profiles from the Pioneers of American Landscape Design Project. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-81392-789-3.
- Kathy Stinson. Love Every Leaf: The Life of Landscape Architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander. Toronto: Tundra, 2008. ISBN 978-0-88776-804-0
- Mechtild Manus, Lisa Rochon. Picturing Landscape Architecture: Projects of Cornelia Hahn Oberlander as seen by Etta Gerdes. Munich: Callwey / Montreal: Goethe-Institute, 2006 ISBN 3-7667-1669-7
- Oberlander at The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2020
- Katharine Hamer, "A home fit for King David: Architects created a space tailored to Jewish independent school"[permanent dead link], Jewish Independent, 17 February 2006
- Cornelia Oberlander to present new park design April 1, City of Toronto, 21 March 2003.
- Waterfall Building Green Roof Case Study, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, January 2002 (pdf)
- Web Atlas Featured Projects | BCSLA British Columbia Society of Landscape Architects new link to BCSLA Web Atlas October 2013
- Library Square Building aerial view
- Charles Birnbaum "Oral history of Cornelia Hahn Oberlander" on August 3-5, 2008, Cultural History Project
- Announces Oberlander Prize
- Vancouver Heritage
- (in German) Mehr Grün in die Innenstadt. Hahn Oberlander visiting the town of her childhood, 2012. Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, Der Westen, 12 August 2012, by Margitta Ulbricht
- Hine, Ron (19 March 2013). "William H. Whyte on what makes public spaces fail & what makes them succeed" (PDF). Retrieved 6 May 2021.
- Brown, Patricia Leigh (2 October 2019). "Landscape Prize Honors Cornelia Hahn Oberlander" – via NYTimes.com.
- Cornelia Hahn Oberlander: Making the Modern Landscape. by Susan Herrington. Charlottesville, University of Virginia Press, Baltimore, Md.: Project MUSE, 2013
- Media related to Cornelia Oberlander at Wikimedia Commons
- Official website
- Finding aid for the Cornelia Hahn Oberlander Fonds at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (digitized items)