Cornelia Oberlander

Cornelia Oberlander

Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, OC (born 20 June 1924) is a Canadian landscape architect based in Vancouver, British Columbia. During her career she has contributed to the designs of many high-profile buildings in both Canada and the United States, including the Robson Square and Law Courts Complex in Vancouver, the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Chancery in Washington D.C., the Vancouver Public Library, and Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly Building in Yellowknife. Her firm, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander Landscape Architects, was founded in 1953.



Oberlander was born at Muelheim-Ruhr, Germany, on June 20, 1921. In 1939, when she was 18, she and her family emigrated to the United States. Her mother, who wrote gardening books for children, fostered in her a deep love and appreciation for nature from a young age,[1] and in a 2004 interview with Jenny Hall of the Smith Quarterly, Oberlander reported that she "never wanted to be anything else [than a landscape architect] from the time [she] was 11 years old".[2]

In 1944 Oberlander received a BA from Smith College, and in 1947 was among the first class of women to graduate from Harvard with a degree in landscape architecture.[3] In her interview with Hall she states, "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."[2] Her future husband, Peter Oberlander, received a PhD in regional planning from Harvard, and they met at a class picnic. They were married in 1953 and now have three children.

Oberlander began work with Louis Kahn and Oscar Stonorov in Philadelphia and then with landscape architect Dan Kiley in Vermont before moving with her husband in 1953 to Vancouver, where she founded a small landscape architecture firm. In Vancouver, Oberlander became interested in the modern art movement led by Bertie Binning and Ned Pratt, which combined art and architecture to address the connections between urbanism and surrounding natural settings. In 1999-2000, she contributed her expertise to the Vancouver Art Gallery's Out of This Century exhibition, guiding patrons through the selection of visual art pieces that were chosen from the gallery's permanent collection (by Oberlander and five other Vancouverites) to reflect and represent the city's art scene through the decades.[4]

The early years of Oberlander's career were dedicated to landscaping low-income housing projects and playgrounds, the most famous of which is the Children's Creative Centre for Expo 67 in Montreal. She now does landscaping on a more commercial scale, working with architects and other professionals from different disciplines to create aesthetic solutions for challenging projects. Before beginning a project she researches it thoroughly to ensure that her innovative schemes will also be practical and long-lasting. Oberlander always approaches a project from an environmental standpoint, stating in her Convocation Address for the acceptance of an honorary degree from Simon Fraser University:

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.[5]

Her concern for the environment and for people in general is 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 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."[6] 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 the restoration of historic buildings on the campus. The Oberlanders were recently honored for their contributions by the Vancouver chapter of Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2004 and have visited Israel many times in their philanthropic efforts.[6]

Hahn Oberlander has received numerous awards for her efforts in the field of landscape architecture including the Order of Canada (1990); an honorary law degree from UBC (1991); a commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada (1992); the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada Allied Medal (1995); honoree of Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem fundraising gala (2004); an honorary law degree from SFU (2005); Smith College (2002); Ryerson University (2001); McGill University (2008) Dalhousie (2008); and an honorary membership to the Architectural Institute of British Columbia. The International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA), announced on June 9, 2011 that Cornelia Hahn Oberlander is the winner of the Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe Award – the International Federation of Landscape Architects’ premier award – for 2011.

Important Works


  1. ^ Prominent Canadian Landscape Architect To Speak At U.Va. School Of Architecture, University of Virginia News, 9 March 2001, retrieved 2 July 2010.
  2. ^ a b [1].[dead link]
  3. ^ "Acclaimed landscape architect honored", Smith e-news June 2006.
  4. ^ [2].[dead link]
  5. ^ [3][dead link]
  6. ^ a b [4][dead link]


External links

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