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Cornelia Oberlander, a Farsighted Landscape Architect, Dies at 99

Cornelia Oberlander, a Farsighted Landscape Architect, Dies at 99
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Cornelia Oberlander, a Farsighted Landscape Architect, Dies at 99

Cornelia Oberlander, a Farsighted Landscape Architect, Dies at 99

Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, a German-born Canadian panorama architect who blended naturalistic designs with modernist beliefs and acknowledged early on the urgency of local weather change, designing public areas to mitigate its results, died on Might 22 in Vancouver, British Columbia. She was 99.

The trigger was problems of Covid-19, stated her daughter Judy Oberlander.

Ms. Oberlander was one of many first ladies to check at Harvard’s Graduate Faculty of Design, the place she was taught by Walter Gropius, a chief of the Bauhaus motion. Its modernist ethos and her personal upbringing gave her a mission to enhance folks’s lives with public areas nourished by nature.

With the Canadian modernist architect Arthur Erickson, she created a number of the most enduring and beloved public areas in Vancouver, her adopted metropolis. One is Robson Sq., a three-block downtown plaza constructed between 1978 and 1983. An oasis of inexperienced roofs, waterfalls and hanging gardens, it descends from the town’s courthouses and authorities places of work — a low-slung concrete complicated designed by Mr. Erickson — by means of an ingenious sequence of gently graded granite stair ramps that Ms. Oberlander known as “stramps” (she was impressed by goat paths). They make every stage navigable to anybody, even in case you are in a wheelchair or pushing a pram.

She and Mr. Erickson additionally teamed up on the Museum of Anthropology at the College of British Columbia in Vancouver, one other critically acclaimed landmark. Right here his startling glass and concrete Brutalist constructing is nestled in an open meadow of native vegetation, the constructing wanting as if it had sprouted absolutely fashioned from Ms. Oberlander’s panorama.

Ms. Oberlander, an advocate of pocket parks and play areas in cities, was emphatic concerning the therapeutic results of nature, and the power of panorama structure to impact social change.

“The eager for nature is constructed into our genes,” she instructed Charles Birnbaum of the Cultural Landscape Basis when he interviewed her for an oral historical past of her life. “That’s the driving power behind my work.”

Lengthy earlier than the phrase “local weather change” had entered the favored lexicon, Ms. Oberlander was designing inexperienced roofs to chill cities and supply storm water administration. She labored globally, with a number of the twentieth century’s most celebrated architects, together with Louis Kahn, Moshe Safdie and Renzo Piano.

She labored specifically with Mr. Piano on the brand new headquarters for The New York Occasions, a 52-story tower on Manhattan’s West Aspect. His design known as for an inside atrium within the form of a good dice with a grid of birch timber, and it was Ms. Oberlander’s seemingly unattainable process to make it occur.

“Cornelia introduced science to the dialog,” stated Hank White, the panorama architect with whom she collaborated on the undertaking. She known as in a scientist who had created a software program program to mannequin microclimatology and requested him to measure the wind, solar and shade patterns of this but to be created area. In the long run, on an undulating ground of hillocks and dales, the timber had been positioned not on a grid however precisely the place the sunshine would fall.

“She was a panorama architect who studied housing, who studied cities,” the structure critic Paul Goldberger wrote of Ms. Oberlander in 2019, when the Cultural Landscape Basis established an award in her identify. Her life, he continued, “was deeply intertwined with the rising presence of the fashionable motion in the USA after which in Canada, and whose complete profession has been a rebuke to those that could be so foolhardy as to suppose that the design of panorama is principally a matter of choosing vegetation.”

Cornelia Ann Hahn was born on June 20, 1921, in Mülheim-an-der-Ruhr, Germany, the oldest of three daughters in a rich and socially aware household. Her father, Franz Hahn, was an engineer within the household’s metal enterprise, based by a great-grandfather of Cornelia’s, and later a administration marketing consultant; her mom, Beate (Jastrow) Hahn, was a horticulturist and youngsters’s ebook writer. Cornelia grew up in Düsseldorf and Berlin. Her father was killed in an avalanche in 1933 whereas snowboarding.

With the Nazis rising to energy within the Thirties, Cornelia, like so many different Jewish kids, was forbidden to attend her faculty. The household’s passports had been taken away, as was the metal enterprise that was the supply of their wealth. Their butler started to cover his personal cash beneath a rug for the household in order that it’d assist them ought to they escape. They had been lastly in a position to flee in late 1938, two weeks after Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogrom towards Jews, with the assistance of Geoffrey Lawrence, a British decide and household buddy who would go on to supervise the Nuremberg trials.

The Hahn household first settled in New Rochelle, N.Y., after which in New Hampshire on a 200-acre farm, the place Ms. Oberlander’s mom practiced natural gardening. Cornelia selected Smith Faculty for her undergraduate research, drawn by its lessons in panorama design.

At Harvard’s Faculty of Design, she met Peter Oberlander, who was learning city planning. Viennese-born and in addition Jewish, Mr. Oberlander had ended up in Canada in 1940 after having been in a sequence of internment camps. Cornelia caught his eye at a scholar picnic, and so did the dessert she had introduced, an Austrian Bundt-style cake known as a gugelhupf.

“It was ‘a place in time cake’” that sealed the deal, stated their daughter Wendy Oberlander — a sort of madeleine that created an immediate bond between the 2 younger European refugees.

The couple married in New York Metropolis in 1953 and moved to Vancouver, the place Mr. Oberlander turned a professor of metropolis planning at the College of British Columbia. He died in 2008. Along with her daughters Judy and Wendy, Ms. Oberlander is survived by a son, Tim, and 4 grandchildren.

Ms. Oberlander was severe about kids and their play, and frightened notably about city kids and their entry to nature. Starting along with her early work in public housing in Philadelphia, she made certain to incorporate locations for youngsters in her landscapes.

One playground she designed throughout this era was produced from swooping concrete shapes — “all the weather for youngsters to make up their very own story,” stated Alexandra Lange, an structure critic and the writer of “The Design of Childhood: How the Materials World Shapes Unbiased Youngsters” (2018). The Philadelphia website prefigured Ms. Oberlander’s design for her extra well-known work, a playground for Expo 67, the Montreal world’s honest; Ms. Lange described it as a stage for youngsters to precise themselves on, moderately than an association of kit that instructed them what to do.

Known as the Area for Artistic Play, the Expo design was a rolling panorama of looping paths, a canal with arched wood bridges, a climbing web and a seashore. “All youngsters want,” Ms. Oberlander typically stated, “is a few sand, water and one thing to climb on.”

She would go on to design 70 city playgrounds, largely in Canada. Amongst her many awards, she was honored with the Order of British Columbia in 2016 and made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 2018. Days earlier than her dying, the mayor of Vancouver introduced that she had acquired the town’s highest honor, the Freedom of the Metropolis Award.

“My mom lived between two pandemics,” stated Tim Oberlander, “and her story connects with the arc of German Jewish historical past.” He stated Vancouver’s latest lockdown had made his mom really feel as “cooped up” — her phrases — as she was throughout her final years in Berlin. She was nonetheless working when she fell in poor health.

In 2008, when Mr. Birnbaum, of the Cultural Landscape Basis, flew out to Vancouver to interview Ms. Oberlander for his oral historical past, she gave him and his crew a tour of her property: a modernist home that cantilevers over a ravine (she and her husband had designed it with a buddy) and a semi-wild panorama with fruit timber and flowers.

As was her behavior, Ms. Oberlander, at 5-foot-2, was marching alongside swiftly, and the movie crew was struggling to maintain up. When Mr. Birnbaum requested her to decelerate, she instructed him: “After I was younger, I used to be at all times the quickest. My mom stated I needed to decelerate and let the Aryan kids win. I swore I’d by no means decelerate once more.”

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