Cornelia Hahn Oberlander

Cornelia Oberlander's early professional years were devoted to designing landscapes for low-cost housing projects and playgrounds throughout Canada, including the Children's Creative Centre for EXPO 67 in Montréal.

Oberlander, Cornelia Hahn
Cornelia Hahn Oberlander on construction site of National Gallery (courtesy Cornelia Hahn Oberlander Landscape Architect).
Robson Square
Streetscape with double row of street trees, Robson Square, the Provincial Government Complex, Vancouver, BC, 1974-82 (photo by Cornelia Hahn Oberlander).
National Gallery Garden
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).

Cornelia Hahn Oberlander

  Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, landscape architect (born at Muelheim-Ruhr, Germany 20 June 1921). Cornelia Hahn's family immigrated to the USA in 1939. She obtained a BA from Smith College (1944) in Northampton, Mass., and was one of the first women to graduate from Harvard University's School of Design with a degree in landscape architecture (1947). She worked with Louis Kahn and Oscar Stonorov in Philadelphia, and landscape architect Dan Kiley in Vermont, before moving to Vancouver to establish her own landscape architecture practice in 1953. She married architect Peter Oberlander the same year.

Cornelia Oberlander's early professional years were devoted to designing landscapes for low-cost housing projects and playgrounds throughout Canada, including the Children's Creative Centre for EXPO 67 in Montréal. Since that time she has collaborated as a member of the design team with many of the country's leading architects. Her designs, at the heart of which lie the concept of genius loci - treating each site as a unique place that generates unique solutions - are assertively modern. Her work not only integrates the overall architectural project with the natural environment, but does so by respecting and enhancing the existing forms of the landscape. Indigenous plants are featured to produce a variety of textures and colours that change with the seasons.

 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).

Oberlander's work has increasingly been concerned with the design and development of environmentally responsible landscapes. She first made use of indigenous plants in her landscape design for the MUSEUM OF ANTHROPOLOGY at UBC (Arthur Erickson Architects, 1976), specifying plants that were used by NORTHWEST COAST PEOPLES for food and medicines. The C.K. Choi building, Institute of Asian Research at UBC (Matsuzaki/Wright Architects, 1996), is a model building and landscape that set new standards for sustainable design, construction and operations. A subsurface wetland with aquatic plants purifies greywater from the building and releases it for irrigation while native plants restore the landscape around the building.

She co-wrote Green Roofs--A Design Guide & Review of the Relevant Technologies with Elisabeth Whitelow and Eva Matsuzaki, and Trees in the City with Ira B. Nadel.

Cornelia Hahn Oberlander's numerous awards include the ORDER OF CANADA (appointed member 1990; promoted to officer in 2009), a commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada (1992) and the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada Allied Medal (1995). She has received honorary degrees from the universities of BC (1991), Ryerson Polytechnic (1999), Simon Fraser (2002), Smith College (2003), Dalhousie (2008) and McGill (2008). She is an honorary member of the Architectural Institute of BC, and a fellow of the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects and the American Society of Landscape Architects. In 2010 she was presented with the Green Roof Lifetime Achievement Award and in 2011 the International Federation of Landscape Architects gave her its Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe Award. In 2012 she was honoured by the American Society of Landscape Architects with the ASLA Medal, the society's most prestigious award for a landscape architect.

Further Reading

  • Kathy Stinson, Love Every Leaf: the life of landscape architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander (2008).