Leadership | LAF Medal and Founders' Award

2017 LAF Medal Recipient: Cornelia Hahn Oberlander

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“Cornelia Hahn Oberlander once said, ‘I dream of green cities and green buildings where rural and urban activities live in harmony.’ With a career spanning a stunning seventy years, she has created just that.”

                            — Awards Committee Chair Dennis Carmichael, FASLA

 

A native of Germany, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, OC, MBCSCLA, FCSCLA, FASLA fled with her family from the terror of the Nazi regime in 1939 and settled in the United States, where she attended Smith College. She was a pioneer in the profession of landscape architecture as one of the first female students at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, graduating in 1947. Her early career included collaborations with James Rose and Dan Kiley in the emerging field of modernism in landscape architecture. In 1953, she and her husband, urban planner H. Peter Oberlander, moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, where she set up her own practice.

Her work included a variety of projects, and was characterized by a concern for social and environmental responsibility. Her Children’s Creative Center at Expo 67 led to the creation of national guidelines for children’s playgrounds. Among her most noteworthy projects was Robson Square, a  collaboration with architect Arthur Erickson, in which it can be said, she realized her dream of green cities and green buildings. The sprawling cultural and civic center in downtown Vancouver is a perfect fusion of landscape and architecture in which the roofs of buildings become the floors of the city. One of the first and grandest green roof projects, it transformed the city and opened up a new way of seeing urban landscapes. The design also proved that barrier- free design could be beautiful and not merely functional, providing a model for universal access.

Cornelia has earned national and international acclaim for her work, including the ASLA Medal from the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Margolese National Design for Living Prize from the University of British Columbia, and the Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe Award from the International Federation of Landscape Architects.