British Columbia landscape architecture pioneer Cornelia Oberlander has died at 99

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“Cornelia Oberlander was a true icon of our Jewish community. ”

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Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, a pioneer in the field of landscape architecture, whose landscaping is as ubiquitous as it is adored in her adopted hometown of Vancouver, died on Saturday at the age of 99.

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His design heritage includes iconic contributions to Vancouver’s public spaces, such as the log seats on city beaches (1963), Robson Square (1983), the rooftop garden of the Vancouver Public Library Central Branch ( 1995) and the VanDusen Botanical Garden Visitor Center (2011).

She also designed landscapes for the Vancouver General Hospital Burn Unit Garden, UBC Anthropology Museum and the CK Choi Building.

“Cornelia was a giant in the field of landscape architecture, an inspiring and pioneering figure known for his extraordinary creativity, courage and vision,” said Charles A. Birnbaum, President and CEO of Cultural Landscape Foundation. “His legacy of built work and influence demonstrates how one person can shape a profession that has global impact and importance. “

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In a statement on Sunday, the city of Vancouver announced that it had posthumously awarded the Freedom of the City Award, the city’s highest honor, to Oberlander.

“Cornelia Oberlander was one of Vancouver’s most renowned Jewish residents, and during Jewish Heritage Month in May, we honor her outstanding accomplishments by bringing world-class landscaping to Canada, and Vancouver in particular,” said Mayor Kennedy Stewart said in a statement. “On behalf of the board, I offer my deepest condolences to his family and friends. May his memory be a blessing.

The price was approved by city council on May 18, a few days before Oberlander’s death.

Famous landscape designer Cornelia Hahn Oberlander died on Saturday.
Famous landscape designer Cornelia Hahn Oberlander died on Saturday. Photo by Ian Lindsay /Vancouver Sun

Oberlander, who escaped Nazi Germany at the age of 18 and fled to the United States via England, was educated at Smith College and then Harvard University, where she graduated graduating from the Graduate School of Design in 1947.

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“I didn’t want to leave Harvard, I didn’t want to leave Boston, but my mother said to me, ‘You went to Harvard to bring the ideas you gathered there to the world. So if you don’t, you are going to fall apart if you stay there. So my big luck is that I married Peter, moved here (Vancouver) and was able to promote the many ideas in a new place, which I never could have done elsewhere. So it’s a great chance to come here, ”she said in an interview with the Cultural Landscape Foundation in 2008.

She and her husband, architect Peter Oberlander, arrived in Vancouver in 1953 – and the look of the city would soon change forever

“They had no idea what the landscape architecture was, everything was English gardens. And they couldn’t believe that a landscape architect would be done with it all. I gave a talk at the Garden Club, which was a total failure, because I talked about design and abstract design, and they didn’t want to hear it. Thus, the perennial English border prevailed, and over the years it has changed a bit. But there is still a lot to change, ”said Oberlander.

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Peter, who founded UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning, died in 2008 at the age of 86.

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In 2019, the TCLF created the Cornelia Hahn Oberlander International Landscape Architecture Award, the first and only landscape architecture award to include a monetary award of US $ 100,000. The inaugural winner will be announced later this year.

“Cornelia Oberlander was a wonderful person who was a leader by example. She was a steward who graciously shared her time and expertise with emerging professionals, allied organizations and the public, ”said Tara Culham, Executive Director of the BC Society of Landscape Architects.

When asked about her work in 2001, Oberlander told Vancouver columnist Sun Daphne Bramham that her landscapes do not come with a specific signature or style.

“My gardens are not the same,” Oberlander said. “Each concept is for each specific use and everything must be beautiful. …

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“You cannot choose my gardens. I consider myself in the needs and wishes of a person. I need to know how the outdoor space is used. Then I work with a concept and the concepts are driven by the idea that people want to be surrounded by nature… it’s in our genes.

Cornelia Hahn Oberlander was made an Officer of the Order of Canada by Governor General Michaëlle Jean in 2010.
Cornelia Hahn Oberlander was made an Officer of the Order of Canada by Governor General Michaëlle Jean in 2010. Photo by PAT MCGRATH /THE CITIZEN OF OTTAWA

Oberlander’s nomination for the City’s Freedom Award was supported by the Vancouver Jewish Federation, the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs, and the British Columbia Jewish Museum and Archives in honor of the Month of Jewish heritage.

“Cornelia Oberlander was a true icon of our Jewish community. The Freedom of the City Award honors Cornelia’s lifetime achievements over the course of a month that celebrates the impact Jewish Canadians have had on society as a whole, ”said Ezra S. Shanken, CEO of the Vancouver Jewish Federation.

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According to the city’s website, the City of Vancouver’s Freedom Award is reserved for individuals or groups who have gained national and international recognition in the arts, business or philanthropy, and who have had Vancouver recognized by their achievements.

Oberlander was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2010 and later elevated to Companion of the Order of Canada, the highest rank, in 2018.

“Landscape architecture has lost not only a great designer, but also an exceptional public citizen with a deep commitment to our common environment,” said Dr John Beardsley, art historian and curator of the TCLF Oberland Prize. “Fortunately, his legacy will live on in the award that bears his name. “

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With files from Daphne Bramham

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