Margolese Prize Winner Cornelia Oberlander on Landscapes, Cities and Healing Souls
For 70 years, lauded architect has brought nature to urban design.
Whether they know it or not, almost every Vancouverite -- along with many others around the world -- has experienced the work of Cornelia Hahn Oberlander.
In collaboration with Arthur Erickson, Louis Kahn, Dan Riley, Sharp & Diamond, Hank White, KPMB and many other prominent architects and designers, the German-born, Harvard-trained, Vancouver-based Oberlander is responsible for the landscape architecture of Robson Square/Provincial Court, the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, the Canadian Embassy in Berlin, the Chancery in Washington, D.C., the tree-filled atrium of architect Renzo Piano's New York Times building, and much more.
On why landscape architecture, despite championing everything we belatedly see as important for cities, still gets short shrift:
It's because people don't understand how important landscape architecture is. Since I started practicing here, I can see that there is a growing commitment to have landscape architects involved in all development. For years, the Museum of Anthropology's reflecting pool wasn't completed, but it is now; it's an inlet into the sea, so it's like a park -- people come there for recreation. However, the funding for good landscape architecture and good plant material is so minimal that people don't see it. If the landscape is part of nature, and if the landscape is to fit a building into nature, they don't see it. The first thing that gets cut is the budget for landscape, and yet today, especially with the population pressures, you need every bit of nature. But when you drive down Seymour Street with all those highrises, where do you see nature? Nowhere!
On why at age 94, she continues to practice, speak and advocate:
It's my passion. I'm still working on major projects in collaboration with well-known architects. In New York, for instance, at the New York Times building atrium, we have a problem with maintenance. We have to work on replacing the birch trees. I have never deviated from my dictum to bring nature into the city, and make people enjoy nature. And the passion is what drives me to keep going -- just to make the world a little greener.