Cornelia Oberlander

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Cornelia Hahn Oberlander

Cornelia Hahn

(1921-06-20)20 June 1921
Died22 May 2021(2021-05-22) (aged 99)
NationalityGerman, Canadian
Alma materSmith College, Harvard
AwardsOrder of Canada, American Society of Landscape Architects Medal, Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe Award, Governor General’s Medal in Landscape Architecture
PracticeCornelia Hahn Oberlander Landscape Architects
BuildingsC. 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
ProjectsPeacekeeping Monument, VanDusen Botanical Garden Visitors Center
DesignCanadian Government Pavilion, Children's Creative Centre and play area for Expo 67 in Montreal

Cornelia Hahn Oberlander CC OBC (20 June 1921 – 22 May 2021) was German-born Canadian landscape architect. Her firm, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander Landscape Architects, was founded in 1953, when she moved to Vancouver.[1]

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[edit]

Partial view of grounds, Peacekeeping Monument, Ottawa, Canada

Oberlander was born at Muelheim-Ruhr, Germany, on 20 June 1921, the daughter of Beate (Jastrow) and Franz Hahn.[1][2] 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.[3] 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."[4]

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.[4]

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,[5] and pursued that objective in American colleges.

Higher education and later life[edit]

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.[6] 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."[7] 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.[1] Her husband's professional career was as an architect and as Canada's first professor of Urban and Regional Planning.[8]

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.[9][10] 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.[11]

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.[12]

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".[13] 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.[13]

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).[14]

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.[15]

Peter Oberlander died on 27 December 2008.[16]


Cornelia Oberlander died of COVID-19 in Vancouver, British Columbia on 22 May 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic in British Columbia, one month shy of the one hundredth anniversary of her birth.[17]

Awards and honours[edit]

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.[28] She was included in Chatelaine Magazine's Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015 listing.[29]

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.[30]

Important works[edit]

Ground floor enclosed garden, New York Times Building in Manhattan

Oberlander produced landscape designs for private residences, playgrounds, urban parks, and other public spaces, as well as major projects including landscaping for:[9]



  1. ^ a b c 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.
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ a b Manus, Mechtild (2006). Bilder kanadischer Landschaftsarchitecktur/Picturing Landscape Architecture. Munchen: Callwey. pp. 60, 96. ISBN 978-3-76671-6699.
  5. ^ "Acclaimed landscape architect's Oral History", The Cultural Landscape Foundation 3–5 August 2008.
  6. ^ "Acclaimed landscape architect honored", Smith e-news June 2006.
  7. ^ Hall, Jenny. "A Pioneer with an Eye for Innovation". Smith Alumnae Quarterly - Fall 2004. Archived from the original on 22 April 2007.
  8. ^ "H. Peter Oberlander Obituary". Vancouver Sun. 3 January 2009. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
  9. ^ a b Cornelia Hahn Oberlander Fonds Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  10. ^ Oberlander, Cornelia Hahn (1966). "Space for Creative Play". Journal of Canadian Landscape Architects.
  11. ^ Weder, Adele (14 March 2016). "Margolese Prize Winner Cornelia Oberlander on Landscapes, Cities and Healing Souls". The Tyee.
  12. ^ SFU honorary degree recipients' convocation addresses
  13. ^ a b Berger, Kyle (13 February 2004). "Honors for Oberlanders". Jewish Independent. Archived from the original on 3 February 2006.
  14. ^ a b Canadian Society of Landscape Architects/Association des architectes paysagistes du Canada (2003). "CSLA/AAPC College of Fellows 2003 Investiture Ceremony booklet" (PDF). p. [5]. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ "H. Peter Oberlander Obituary". Vancouver Sun. 3 January 2009. Retrieved 18 March 2017.
  17. ^ Vancouver landscape architecture pioneer Cornelia Oberlander dead at 99
  18. ^ a b "Governor General of Canada Honours: Find a Recipient". Retrieved 18 March 2017.
  19. ^ University of British Columbia. "Honorary Degrees Conferred by UBC". Retrieved 18 March 2017.
  20. ^ American Society of Landscape Architects. "ASLA Fellows Database". Retrieved 18 March 2017.
  21. ^ "Cornelia Hahn Oberlander". Archived from the original on 3 June 2016.
  22. ^ "Cornelia Hahn Oberlander Receives Honorary Degree". Retrieved 25 May 2021.
  23. ^ "Margolese National Design for Living Prize". Margolese National Design for Living Prize.
  24. ^ "Cornelia Hahn Oberlander receives inaugural Governor General's Medal in Landscape Architecture". Archived from the original on 26 April 2016. Retrieved 26 April 2016.
  25. ^ "2016 Recipient: Cornelia Hahn Oberlander – Vancouver : Order of BC".
  26. ^ "TCLF ANNOUNCES OBERLANDER PRIZE". Landscape Architecture Magazine. 2 October 2019.
  27. ^ "About TCLF | The Cultural Landscape Foundation".
  28. ^ Cornelia Hahn Oberlander: Ecological Landscapes Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  29. ^ "Women of the year: 30 Canadians who rocked 2015". 27 December 2015.
  30. ^ Bozikovic, Alex. "City Dreamers: Portraits of four women who shaped the world we live in"".. The Globe and Mail
  31. ^ "Cornelia Oberlander biography".
  32. ^ New York Times Building, New York, New York]
  33. ^ "Battle over "stramp" accessibility upgrades in British Columbia takes shape". Archinect. Retrieved 30 August 2020.
  34. ^ Weder, Adele (14 March 2016). "Margolese Prize Winner Cornelia Oberlander on Landscapes, Cities and Healing Souls". The Tyee. Retrieved 30 August 2020.


Further reading[edit]

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