Cornelia Oberlander, a Farseeing 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 May 22 in Vancouver, British Columbia. She was 99.

The trigger was issues of Covid-19, mentioned her daughter Judy Oberlander.

Ms. Oberlander was one of many first girls to check at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, based 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 Square, a three-block downtown plaza constructed between 1978 and 1983. An oasis of inexperienced roofs, waterfalls and hanging gardens, it descends from town’s courthouses and authorities places of work — a low-slung concrete advanced designed by Mr. Erickson — by means of an ingenious collection of gently graded granite stair ramps that Ms. Oberlander known as “stramps” (she was impressed by goat paths). They make every degree navigable to anybody, even in case you are in a wheelchair or pushing a pram.

Ms. Oberlander created a meadow of native vegetation for the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, a Brutalist constructing designed by her longtime collaborator Arthur Erickson, the modernist architect.Credit…Don MacKinnon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

She and Mr. Erickson additionally teamed up on the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, one other critically acclaimed landmark. 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 longing for nature is built into our genes,” she advised Charles Birnbaum of the Cultural Landscape Foundation when he interviewed her for an oral historical past of her life. “That is the driving force behind my work.”

Long earlier than the phrase “climate 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 20th century’s most celebrated architects, together with Louis Kahn, Moshe Safdie and Renzo Piano.

She labored particularly with Mr. Piano on the brand new headquarters for The New York Times, a 52-story tower on Manhattan’s West Side. 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 job to make it occur.

“Cornelia brought science to the conversation,” mentioned Hank White, the panorama architect with whom she collaborated on the venture. 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 tip, on an undulating flooring of hillocks and dales, the timber have been positioned not on a grid however precisely the place the sunshine would fall.

With the panorama architect Hank White, Ms. Oberlander conceived a mini forest of birch timber and an undulating flooring of little hills and dales for The New York Times constructing, designed by Renzo Piano, utilizing a software program mannequin created by a scientist that measured the wind, solar and shade patterns so the timber might be positioned the place the sunshine fell.Credit…Zack DeZon for The New York Times

“She was a landscape architect who studied housing, who studied cities,” the structure critic Paul Goldberger wrote of Ms. Oberlander in 2019, when the Cultural Landscape Foundation established an award in her title. Her life, he continued, “was deeply intertwined with the growing presence of the modern movement in the United States and then in Canada, and whose entire career has been a rebuke to those who might be so foolhardy as to think that the design of landscape is mainly a matter of selecting plants.”

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 guide; her mom, Beate (Jastrow) Hahn, was a horticulturist and kids’s ebook creator. Cornelia grew up in Düsseldorf and Berlin. Her father was killed in an avalanche in 1933 whereas snowboarding.

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With the Nazis rising to energy within the 1930s, Cornelia, like so many different Jewish youngsters, was forbidden to attend her faculty. The household’s passports have been taken away, as was the metal enterprise that was the supply of their wealth. Their butler started to cover his personal cash underneath a rug for the household in order that it’d assist them ought to they escape. They have been lastly in a position to flee in late 1938, two weeks after Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogrom in opposition to Jews, with the assistance of Geoffrey Lawrence, a British choose 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 College for her undergraduate research, drawn by its courses in panorama design.

At Harvard’s School of Design, she met Peter Oberlander, who was finding out city planning. Viennese-born and in addition Jewish, Mr. Oberlander had ended up in Canada in 1940 after having been in a collection of internment camps. Cornelia caught his eye at a pupil 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, mentioned their daughter Wendy Oberlander — a type of madeleine that created an immediate bond between the 2 younger European refugees.

Ms. Oberlander’s design for a playground at Canada’s Expo 67 had a seashore and a canal. “All youngsters want,” Ms. Oberlander usually mentioned, “is a few sand, water and one thing to climb on.”Credit…Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal

The couple married in New York City in 1953 and moved to Vancouver, the place Mr. Oberlander grew to become a professor of metropolis 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 4 grandchildren.

Ms. Oberlander was critical about youngsters and their play, and apprehensive significantly about city youngsters and their entry to nature. Beginning along with her early work in public housing in Philadelphia, she made positive to incorporate locations for youngsters in her landscapes.

One playground she designed throughout this era was comprised of swooping concrete shapes — “all the elements for children to make up their own story,” mentioned Alexandra Lange, an structure critic and the creator of “The Design of Childhood: How the Material World Shapes Independent Kids” (2018). The Philadelphia website prefigured Ms. Oberlander’s design for her extra well-known work, a playground for Expo 67, the Montreal world’s truthful; Ms. Lange described it as a stage for youngsters to precise themselves on, reasonably than an association of apparatus that advised them what to do.

Called the Space for Creative Play, the Expo design was a rolling panorama of looping paths, a canal with arched wood bridges, a climbing internet and a seashore. “All kids need,” Ms. Oberlander usually mentioned, “is some sand, water and something to climb on.”

She would go on to design 70 city playgrounds, largely in Canada. Among 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 town’s highest honor, the Freedom of the City Award.

Ms. Oberlander at house in 2018. A  modernist home that she and her husband designed with a buddy, it sits cantilevered over a ravine. Credit…Yoshihiro Makino

“My mother lived between two pandemics,” mentioned Tim Oberlander, “and her story connects with the arc of German Jewish history.” He mentioned Vancouver’s current 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 sick.

In 2008, when Mr. Birnbaum, of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, 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 advised him: “When I was young, I was always the fastest. My mother said I had to slow down and let the Aryan children win. I swore I would never slow down again.”