Celebrated Canadian landscape architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander passed away this weekend at age 99, one month shy of her 100th birthday.
German by birth, Oberlander fled Nazi Germany at age 18 and immigrated to the United States with her mother and sister. In 1944 she received a B.A. from Smith College, and in 1947 was among the first women to receive a degree in landscape architecture from Harvard Graduate School of Design. At Harvard, she met her husband, the late Canadian architect Peter Oberlander, who similarly fled Europe under Nazi rule.
Since establishing her landscape practice in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1953, Oberlander has become known for designing to combat climate change. “I’ve tried very hard to introduce storm water management through green roofs or wetlands so that we will take care of our environment,” Oberlander said in an oral history video by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) in 2008.
Throughout her 68-year career, Oberlander was regularly commended for her contributions to the field. In 1992 she was elected into the American Society of Landscape Architects' Council of Fellows, and in 2012 she was awarded the ASLA Medal, the highest honor given by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). She is also the namesake of TCLF’s newly established Cornelia Hahn Oberlander International Landscape Architecture Prize, which will be conferred for the first time this fall. Known as the Oberlander Prize, it will be awarded every other year and carry with it an award of $100,000.
"Cornelia was a giant in the field of landscape architecture, an inspiring and pioneering figure known for her extraordinary creativity, courage, and vision," said Charles A. Birnbaum, president and CEO of TCLF. "Her legacy of built work and influence demonstrates how one person can shape a profession that has global impact and importance."
In her adopted Canadian hometown of Vancouver, Oberlander was also known for repurposing wood logs as seating along the city’s public waterfront. Her landscape designs in the city include Robson Square, the Vancouver Public Library Central Branch’s rooftop garden, and the C.K. Choi Building at the University of British Columbia.
“Cornelia Oberlander was one of Vancouver’s most renowned Jewish residents, and during Jewish Heritage Month this May, we honor her outstanding accomplishments in bringing world-class landscape design to Canada, and to Vancouver in particular,” the city’s mayor, Kennedy Stewart, said in a statement following Oberlander’s death.
The City of Vancouver voted to grant Oberlander the Freedom of the City Award just days before her death, and has posthumously granted her the honor.