Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects and a recipient of the ASLA Medal, died this weekend at the age of 99, leaving behind an unparalleled legacy of designed projects and a lifelong commitment to advocacy for the profession. Born in 1921, she fled Nazi Germany in 1939 for the United States, eventually attending Smith College and Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, from which she graduated in 1947. Five years later, she moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, with her husband, the late architect Peter Oberlander, where they both had high-profile careers for several decades. Oberlander designed many projects internationally, but her life and work are closely linked with the Canadian cultural landscape.
As word of Oberlander’s death spread, praise for her influence and activism appeared on social media, where she was called a “visionary,” “icon,” and “legend.” Elizabeth Meyer, FASLA, who served on the Oberlander Prize Advisory Committee, tweeted, “We stand on Cornelia’s shoulders. Great talent, creative risk taker, generous mentor.” Chris Reed, FASLA, of STOSS Landscape Urbanism, agreed, saying, “Cornelia leaves a stunning legacy of work and leadership, and humanity.”
Oberlander’s landscape architecture work has been extensively published in Landscape Architecture Magazine, as well as the general and design press. A selection of articles published in LAM and available online include “Permafrost Frontier,” a profile of Oberlander’s work in the Northwest Territories; “Canadian Modern,” profiling her work in Vancouver; and “Northern Terrain,” about Canada’s National Gallery.
Among the many opportunities to learn about Oberlander’s contributions are Susan Herrington’s Cornelia Hahn Oberlander: Making the Modern Landscape and the recent documentary City Dreamers, which focused on four influential women designers and critics: Denise Scott Brown, Phyllis Lambert, Blanche Lemco van Ginkel, and Oberlander. The Cultural Landscape Foundation, which conducted an oral history with Oberlander in 2008, announced in 2019 that a recently established international landscape architecture prize would be named in honor of Oberlander. The biennial prize will carry a $100,000 award as well as two years of public engagement. The Cultural Landscape Foundation has extensive information about Oberlander’s career and the Cornelia Hahn Oberlander International Landscape Architecture Prize on its website, as well as a recording of the livestreamed memorial service held on May 24, 2021.