Cornelia Oberlander, a Farsighted Landscape Architect, Dies at 99


Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, a German-born Canadian landscape architect who blended naturalistic layouts with modernist ideals and regarded early on the urgency of climate modify, designing public spaces to mitigate its consequences, died on May well 22 in Vancouver, British Columbia. She was 99. The result in was troubles of Covid-19, […]

Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, a German-born Canadian landscape architect who blended naturalistic layouts with modernist ideals and regarded early on the urgency of climate modify, designing public spaces to mitigate its consequences, died on May well 22 in Vancouver, British Columbia. She was 99.

The result in was troubles of Covid-19, said her daughter Judy Oberlander.

Ms. Oberlander was a single of the initially females to study at Harvard’s Graduate School of Style and design, wherever she was taught by Walter Gropius, a leader of the Bauhaus motion. Its modernist ethos and her very own upbringing gave her a mission to make improvements to people’s life with community spaces nourished by character.

With the Canadian modernist architect Arthur Erickson, she created some of the most enduring and beloved general public areas in Vancouver, her adopted town. A single is Robson Sq., a a few-block downtown plaza developed among 1978 and 1983. An oasis of eco-friendly roofs, waterfalls and hanging gardens, it descends from the city’s courthouses and govt places of work — a minimal-slung concrete complex created by Mr. Erickson — by way of an ingenious collection of carefully graded granite stair ramps that Ms. Oberlander identified as “stramps” (she was influenced by goat paths). They make every single level navigable to everyone, even if you are in a wheelchair or pushing a pram.

She and Mr. Erickson also teamed up on the Museum of Anthropology at the College of British Columbia in Vancouver, one more critically acclaimed landmark. Listed here his startling glass and concrete Brutalist constructing is nestled in an open up meadow of native crops, the constructing on the lookout as if it experienced sprouted thoroughly fashioned from Ms. Oberlander’s landscape.

Ms. Oberlander, an advocate of pocket parks and play locations in towns, was emphatic about the therapeutic effects of nature, and the capability of landscape architecture to impact social alter.

“The longing for mother nature is constructed into our genes,” she instructed Charles Birnbaum of the Cultural Landscape Foundation when he interviewed her for an oral background of her life. “That is the driving force behind my operate.”

Very long ahead of the phrase “climate change” experienced entered the well known lexicon, Ms. Oberlander was planning eco-friendly roofs to awesome cities and supply storm water management. She labored globally, with some of the 20th century’s most celebrated architects, which include Louis Kahn, Moshe Safdie and Renzo Piano.

She worked in distinct with Mr. Piano on the new headquarters for The New York Times, a 52-story tower on Manhattan’s West Aspect. His style and design termed for an interior atrium in the condition of a ideal cube with a grid of birch trees, and it was Ms. Oberlander’s seemingly unachievable task to make it come about.

“Cornelia brought science to the discussion,” said Hank White, the landscape architect with whom she collaborated on the undertaking. She referred to as in a scientist who experienced designed a software package application to product microclimatology and questioned him to evaluate the wind, sun and shade designs of this nonetheless to be created place. In the end, on an undulating flooring of hillocks and dales, the trees had been put not on a grid but exactly wherever the mild would tumble.

“She was a landscape architect who studied housing, who studied metropolitan areas,” the architecture critic Paul Goldberger wrote of Ms. Oberlander in 2019, when the Cultural Landscape Foundation founded an award in her name. Her lifestyle, he continued, “was deeply intertwined with the escalating presence of the present day motion in the United States and then in Canada, and whose overall job has been a rebuke to those people who may possibly be so foolhardy as to assume that the style of landscape is largely a make a difference of picking vegetation.”

Cornelia Ann Hahn was born on June 20, 1921, in Mülheim-an-der-Ruhr, Germany, the oldest of 3 daughters in a rich and socially mindful family. Her father, Franz Hahn, was an engineer in the family’s metal small business, established by a fantastic-grandfather of Cornelia’s, and afterwards a management guide her mom, Beate (Jastrow) Hahn, was a horticulturist and children’s reserve author. Cornelia grew up in Düsseldorf and Berlin. Her father was killed in an avalanche in 1933 when skiing.

With the Nazis rising to ability in the 1930s, Cornelia, like so quite a few other Jewish small children, was forbidden to show up at her college. The family’s passports were taken away, as was the metal company that was the resource of their wealth. Their butler began to cover his very own income beneath a rug for the family so that it could enable them should really they escape. They were ultimately ready to flee in late 1938, two months immediately after Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogrom versus Jews, with the assist of Geoffrey Lawrence, a British decide and loved ones close friend who would go on to oversee the Nuremberg trials.

The Hahn loved ones 1st settled in New Rochelle, N.Y., and then in New Hampshire on a 200-acre farm, exactly where Ms. Oberlander’s mother practiced natural gardening. Cornelia chose Smith University for her undergraduate scientific studies, drawn by its classes in landscape structure.

At Harvard’s University of Design and style, she achieved Peter Oberlander, who was studying city planning. Viennese-born and also Jewish, Mr. Oberlander experienced finished up in Canada in 1940 following owning been in a series of internment camps. Cornelia caught his eye at a pupil picnic, and so did the dessert she experienced brought, an Austrian Bundt-design and style cake called a gugelhupf.

“It was ‘a location in time cake’” that sealed the offer, mentioned their daughter Wendy Oberlander — a form of madeleine that established an immediate bond involving the two young European refugees.

The pair married in New York Town in 1953 and moved to Vancouver, where Mr. Oberlander became a professor of metropolis scheduling at the College of British Columbia. He died in 2008. In addition to her daughters Judy and Wendy, Ms. Oberlander is survived by a son, Tim, and 4 grandchildren.

Ms. Oberlander was major about young children and their play, and concerned especially about city children and their access to nature. Beginning with her early do the job in general public housing in Philadelphia, she made certain to include things like locations for little ones in her landscapes.

A person playground she intended in the course of this interval was manufactured from swooping concrete styles — “all the factors for little ones to make up their very own tale,” explained Alexandra Lange, an architecture critic and the author of “The Style and design of Childhood: How the Content Planet Designs Unbiased Kids” (2018). The Philadelphia internet site prefigured Ms. Oberlander’s style and design for her extra well-known operate, a playground for Expo 67, the Montreal world’s fair Ms. Lange described it as a stage for youngsters to specific by themselves on, relatively than an arrangement of tools that advised them what to do.

Identified as the Area for Artistic Perform, the Expo structure was a rolling landscape of looping paths, a canal with arched wood bridges, a climbing web and a seashore. “All children need to have,” Ms. Oberlander frequently said, “is some sand, water and anything to climb on.”

She would go on to style and design 70 city playgrounds, mostly in Canada. Amongst her lots of awards, she was honored with the Purchase of British Columbia in 2016 and designed a Companion of the Order of Canada in 2018. Times ahead of her death, the mayor of Vancouver declared that she had acquired the city’s highest honor, the Independence of the Metropolis Award.

“My mother lived in between two pandemics,” mentioned Tim Oberlander, “and her story connects with the arc of German Jewish history.” He said Vancouver’s current lockdown experienced manufactured his mother feel as “cooped up” — her terms — as she was through her very last years in Berlin. She was nonetheless functioning when she fell sick.

In 2008, when Mr. Birnbaum, of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, flew out to Vancouver to interview Ms. Oberlander for his oral background, she gave him and his crew a tour of her house: a modernist residence that cantilevers around a ravine (she and her spouse experienced developed it with a close friend) and a semi-wild landscape with fruit trees and bouquets.

As was her habit, Ms. Oberlander, at 5-foot-2, was marching together swiftly, and the film crew was having difficulties to continue to keep up. When Mr. Birnbaum questioned her to slow down, she informed him: “When I was youthful, I was always the fastest. My mom reported I experienced to slow down and let the Aryan small children gain. I swore I would never ever sluggish down once more.”

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