Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, a German-born Canadian landscape architect who blended naturalistic designs with modernist ideals and recognized the urgency of climate change early on, designing public spaces to mitigate its effects, on May 22 in Vancouver, British Died in Colombia. She was 99 years old.
The reason was complications from Covid-19, his daughter Judy Oberlander said.
Ms. Oberlander was one of the first women to study at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, founded by Walter Gropius, a leader of the Bauhaus movement. Its modernist ethos and upbringing itself gave him a mission to improve people’s lives with public spaces nurtured by nature.
With the Canadian Modernist Architect Arthur Erickson, he built some of the most enduring and beloved public spaces in his adopted city of Vancouver. One is Robson Square, a three-block downtown plaza built between 1978 and 1983. An oasis of green terraces, waterfalls and hanging gardens, it descends from the city courtyards and government offices – a low-slung concrete complex designed by Mr. Erikson – through a simple series of gently graded granite stair ramps. from, which Ms. Oberlander called “Stramps” (she was inspired by Goat Path). They make each level navigable for anyone, whether you’re in a wheelchair or pushing a pram.
He and Mr. Erikson also worked at the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, another critically acclaimed landmark. Here her shocking glass-and-concrete Brutalist building is nestled in an open meadow of native plants, making the building look as if it is made entirely out of Ms.
Ms Oberlander, an advocate of pocket parks and play areas in cities, was empowered about the healing effects of nature and the potential of landscape architecture to effect social change.
“The craving for nature is built in our genes,” she told Charles Birnbaum of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, when he interviewed her an oral history of his life. “That’s the driving force behind my work.”
Long before the phrase “climate change” entered the popular lexicon, Ms. Oberlander was designing green roofs to calm cities and provide storm water management. He worked globally with some of the most celebrated architects of the 20th century, including Louis Kahn, Moshe Safdie, and Renzo Piano.
He worked notably with Mr. Piano at the new headquarters of The New York Times, a 52-story tower on Manhattan’s West Side. Her design called for an interior atrium in the shape of a perfect cube with a grid of birch trees, and it was a seemingly impossible task for Ms. Oberlander.
“Cornelia brought science into the conversation,” said landscape architect Hank White, with whom he collaborated on the project. He called a scientist who had created a software program to model microclimatology and asked him to measure wind, sun and shadow patterns that had not yet been formed. Finally, on a wavy floor of hills and dales, trees were placed not on a grid, but exactly where the light would fall.
“She was a landscape architect who studied housing, who studied cities,” architecture critic Paul Goldberger wrote of Ms Oberlander in 2019, when the Cultural Landscape Foundation instituted an award in his name. His life, he continued, “was deeply intertwined with the growing presence of the modern movement in the United States and then Canada, and whose entire career has been a rebuke to those who may be so foolish as to think that For that the design of the landscape is primarily a matter of plant selection.”
Cornelia Ann Hahn was born on June 20, 1921, in Mülheim-en-der-Ruhr, Germany, the eldest of three daughters in a wealthy and socially conscious family. Her father, Franz Hahn, was an engineer in the family’s steel business, which was founded by Cornelia’s great-grandfather and later a management consultant; His mother, Beate (Jastro) Hahn, was a horticulturist and children’s book author. Cornelia grew up in Düsseldorf and Berlin. His father died in an avalanche in 1933 while skiing.
With the Nazis coming to power in the 1930s, Cornelia, like many other Jewish children, was forbidden to attend her school. The passports of the family were taken away as the steel business was their source of wealth. His butler begins hiding his money for the family under a rug so that it can help them if they escape. They were finally able to escape in late 1938, two weeks after Kristalnacht, the Nazi genocide against Jews, with the help of Geoffrey Lawrence, a British judge and family friend who would oversee the Nuremberg trials.
The Hahn family first settled on a 200-acre farm in New Rochelle, NY, and then New Hampshire, where Ms. Oberlander’s mother practiced organic gardening. Cornelia chose Smith College for her undergraduate studies, which were drawn up by its classes in landscape design.
At the Harvard School of Design, she met Peter Oberlander, who was studying urban planning. Born in Viennese and also Jewish, Mr. Oberlander ended up in Canada in 1940 after living in several internment camps. Cornelia caught her eye at a student picnic, and so did the dessert she brought, an Austrian Bundt-style cake called a gugelhupf.
His daughter Wendy Oberlander said “it was ‘a place in the time cake'” that sealed the deal – a kind of Madeleine that formed an instant bond between the two young European refugees.
The couple married in New York City in 1953 and moved to Vancouver, where Mr. Oberlander became a professor of city planning at the University of British Columbia. He died in 2008. In addition to her daughters Judy and Wendy, Ms Oberlander is survived by a son, Tim, and four grandchildren.
Ms Oberlander was serious about children and their play, and was particularly concerned about urban children and their access to nature. Starting with his early work in public housing in Philadelphia, he made sure to include places for children in his landscape.
A playground designed during this period was created from swooping concrete shapes—”all the elements for children to create their own story,” said Alexandra Lang, an architecture critic and author of “The Design of Childhood: How the The author of “Material World Shapes”. Independent children ”(2018). The Philadelphia site prefabricated Ms. Oberlander’s design for her more famous work, a playground for Expo 67, the Montreal World’s Fair; Ms Lang described it as a platform for children to express themselves, not as a system of tools to tell them what to do.
Called Space for Creative Play, the expo design was a rolling landscape of looping paths, a canal with arched wooden bridges, a climbing net and a beach. “All the kids need,” Ms Oberlander often said, “is some sand, water and something to climb.”
She will design 70 urban playgrounds, mostly in Canada. Among his many awards, he was awarded the Order of British Columbia in 2016 and made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 2018. A few days before his death, the mayor of Vancouver announced that he had received the city’s highest honour, the Freedom. City Award.
“My mother lived between two epidemics,” said Tim Oberlander, “and her story connects to the arc of German Jewish history.” He said Vancouver’s recent lockdown had made his mother feel as “couped up” – her words – as she was during her final years in Berlin. She was working even when she fell ill.
In 2008, when Mr. Birnbaum of the Cultural Landscape Foundation went to Vancouver to interview Ms. Oberlander for an oral history of her, he gave her and her crew a tour of their property: a modernist house that cantilevered over a ravine. and her husband designed it with a friend) and a semi-wooded landscape with fruit trees and flowers.
As her habit, Ms. Oberlander, at 5-foot-2, was speeding up, and the film crew struggled to move. When Mr. Birnbaum asked her to slow down, she told him: “When I was little, I was always the fastest. My mother said I had to slow down and let the Arya kids win. I swore that I will never slow down again.”