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Cornelia Hahn Oberlander is one of North America’s most accomplished and well-known female landscape architects and a pioneer in the creation of socially conscious and sustainable landscape designs.
She was born in 1924 in Mulheim, Germany. The family left Berlin in 1939 to settle near Wolfboro, New Hampshire, USA. She attended Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, from 1941-44 before studying under Walter Gropius at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University, graduating with a degree in Landscape Architecture in 1947. Afterwards Hahn worked with landscape architect Dan Kiley in Vermont, and in Philadelphia from 1951-53, for landscape architect James Rose on social housing developments, as well as with architects Louis Kahn, and Oscar Stonorov. She married fellow Harvard graduate H. Peter Oberlander (born 1922, Vienna, Austria) in 1953 and moved to Vancouver
Until the early 1970s Hahn Oberlander designed primarily children’s playgrounds, private residential gardens, and landscapes for social housing projects such as MacLean Park and Skeena Terrace in Vancouver (1957). After returning to Vancouver in 1974 from a three-year stay in Ottawa (her husband had served in the Federal Ministry of State for Urban Affairs) Hahn Oberlander was invited by architect Arthur Erickson to contribute to the planning of the Robson Square and Provincial Courthouse complex in Vancouver (built 1977-1979). Further collaborations with Erickson and others on important public buildings soon followed. With Erickson she worked on many of his most renowned projects - the Museum of Anthropology at UBC (1976), the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. (1989), California Plaza, Los Angeles (1989) and the Liu Centre for Global Relations at UBC (1998). For architect Moshe Safdie, Hahn Oberlander designed the Taiga (Arctic) Garden for the National Gallery of Canada (1989), landscapes for the Ottawa City Hall addition (1991), and the Vancouver Public Library (1995).
Other major projects involving Hahn Oberlander in the 1990s included the United Nations Peacekeeping Monument, Ottawa (with the Vancouver team of Richard Henriquez architect and sculptor Jack Harman, 1992), as well as landscapes for the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly Building, Yellowknife (Matsuzaki / Wright Architects, 1991-94), and the ecologically innovative C.K. Choi Institute of Asian Research at UBC (Matsuzaki / Wright Architects, 1996), a project that committed Hahn Oberlander to environmental planning and sustainable development in urban contexts.
Current works in progress by Cornelia Hahn Oberlander Landscape Architects are the Canadian Embassy in Berlin (Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects), and the Master Landscape Plan for her alma mater, Smith College (with Rolland / Towers Associates), and most recently the New York Times Building, New York (Renzo Piano, architects). In 2003 the Governor General of Canada named Oberlander “Canada’s premier landscape architect” and awarded her the Order of Canada.