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 ladies to review 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 few 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 workplaces — a low-slung concrete complicated designed by Mr. Erickson — by the use of an ingenious collection of gently graded granite stair ramps that Ms. Oberlander referred to 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.
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 crops, the constructing trying as if it had sprouted totally shaped 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 flexibility 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 history 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 few 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 Times, a 52-story tower on Manhattan’s West Side. His design referred to as for an inside atrium within the form of a excellent dice, and Ms. Oberlander selected to fill it with a grove of white birch bushes, seemingly an not possible job.
But “Cornelia brought science to the conversation,” mentioned Hank White, the panorama architect with whom she collaborated on the challenge.
Ms. Oberlander, he mentioned, referred to 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 house. In the tip, on an undulating flooring of hillocks and dales, the bushes have been positioned precisely the place the sunshine would fall.
“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 name. 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 e book creator. 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 Nineteen Thirties, Cornelia, like so many different Jewish kids, 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 towards 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 scholar picnic, and so did the dessert she had introduced, an Austrian Bundt-style cake referred to 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 on the spot bond between the 2 younger European refugees.
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 kids and their play, and nervous notably about city kids and their entry to nature. Beginning together with her early work in public housing in Philadelphia, she made certain to incorporate locations for kids 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 honest; Ms. Lange described it as a stage for kids to specific themselves on, somewhat 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 picket bridges, a climbing internet and a seaside. “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, principally 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 loss of life, the mayor of Vancouver introduced that she had acquired town’s highest honor, the Freedom of the City Award.
“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 in poor health.
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 bushes 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.”