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Cornelia Hahn Oberlander

Image of Oberlander -landscape architectCornelia Hahn Oberlander, an 82-year-old, is a Landscape Architect, born in Germany in June 1924. Her father died very young, and she emigrated with her mother, a horticulturalist, and her sister to Westchester County north of New York City in 1939 and eventually moved to a farm in New Hampshire.

Oberlander had gone on to receive her education at Smith and Harvard, where she studied architecture and landscape under the legendary Walter Gropius.

In 1953 she met her husband Peter, an architect and city planner she had met at a Harvard class picnic who had gone on to become Trudeau's deputy minister for Urban Affairs. She raised a family of three children now grown; a doctor, a historic preservationist and an art teacher, respectively. Based in Vancouver, Canada, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander developed her eco-conscious yet minimalist approach to landscape architecture.

Previous Works

  • Oberlander worked early on for big names, Dan Kiley, Louis Kahn.
  • Oberlander built a sizeable reputation for her work in playground design, including the Children's Creative Centre for Expo ’67.
  • Nowadays her current focus is on green roofs.

Her Education

  • Oberlander studied at Smith College and then to Harvard Graduate School of Design when the head of architecture was Walter Gropius and there she learned her fine profession.
  • Dan Kiley and James Rhodes had been there before her and in 1938 had published a manifesto in Progressive Architecture not to do with their gardens the gardens of the Beaux Arts but modern gardens as they were discussed in Sweden.
  • The early mentors certainly were James Rhodes and Dan Kiley. She learnt to understand architecture as well as landscape architecture.
  • Oberlander was very much influenced by the teaching at Harvard, especially basic design, which was taught by Josef Albers and others. And that made her learn about design, which can be apply to buildings as well as a landscape.

Her Nature of Work

  • Oberlander's simple yet technically innovative designs express a deep commitment to environmental sustainability and quality of life.
  • Natural and architectural elements are seamlessly integrated, creating healthy and enjoyable spaces that respond to the needs of inhabitants and bring nature into densely built up urban areas.
  • Her projects capture the ecological and social specificities of a site, while referring to the larger context of the Canadian landscape.

Her Achievements and written Books/Manuals

  • July 2006, the Canadian Centre for Architecture in collaboration with the Goethe-Institut Montréal presented Cornelia Hahn Oberlander: Ecological Landscapes, an exhibition.
  • She designs Community service, which include, design play areas or little parks as they are all part of the community.
  • She wrote an introductory manual to green roofing with Elisabeth Whitelaw and Eva Matsuzaki.
  • Oberlander has shaped Canadian cities with her parks and roof gardens.
  • National Gallery of Canada, 1984-89, planting of iris river and pines among the rock (courtesy Cornelia Hahn Oberlander Landscape Architects/photo by E. Whitelaw).
  • Oberlander's technical expertise is always applied in conjunction with her concern for the cultural, social, economic and environmental context associated with each project. This approach has informed many high-profile public building projects including Robson Square/Provincial Government Courthouse Complex in Vancouver (Arthur ERICKSON Architects, 1974-1983); National Gallery of Canada (Moshe SAFDIE Architects, 1988); Canadian Chancery, Washington, D.C. (Arthur Erickson Architects, 1989); Vancouver Public Library (Moshe Safdie Architects, 1995); and Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly Building in Yellowknife (Matsuzaki/Wright Architects, 1995).

Her Awards

  • The 82-year-old Oberlander is the recipient of, among other accolades, the Order of Canada, and of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada Allied Medal.

She recently spoke to Eva Hagberg about the importance of landscape, the necessity for green, and the problem with city roofs today.

Oberlander says herself that, landscape architecture “must be viewed holistically in terms of plant relationships as well as the genius loci, or spirit of the place.”.

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