Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, one of Canada’s most renowned landscape architects, has realised projects including public and private gardens, parks, playgrounds, rooftops, and green spaces in a career that spans over half a century. Her work engages the interactive ecology of places where the built environment incorporates elements of nature.
Oberlander studied at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and settled in Vancouver in 1953. The CCA holds a nearly complete archive of Oberlander’s projects and research, representing every period of her career from designs of the early 1950s for public spaces in Philadelphia to the major institutional projects of the 1970s that gave her international recognition. They include landscaping for the Robson Square government complex in Vancouver (1973); the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver (1976); the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa (1988); the Legislative Assembly in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories; the Vancouver Public Library (1995); and the Canadian embassy in Washington (1989).
The archive also documents Oberlander’s landscape designs for private residences, playgrounds, urban parks, and other public spaces, as well as the major projects she completed more recently, including the “green rooftop” on the Canadian embassy in Berlin (2005). The CCA’s Oberlander archive includes project files and drawings, observation and research notes, site photographs, lecture notes and articles, correspondence, and other documents.
In 2006, Oberlander’s core themes and most prominent projects were explored in Cornelia Hahn Oberlander: Ecological Landscapes, an exhibition organised by the CCA. The selection of drawings, manuscripts, photographs, and mock-ups from the fonds, together with video footage of Oberlander’s comments, revealed her distinct ability to capture a site’s ecological and social uniqueness while simultaneously referencing the broader context of the Canadian landscape.
The Oberlander archive is part of a research collection of nearly 145 archival fonds from Canadian architects who worked in Canada and elsewhere, primarily in the 20th and 21st centuries. Among others, the collection includes the archives of ARCOP, Wells Coates, Ernest Cormier, André Blouin, Humphrey Carver, Roger D’Astous, Arthur Erickson, Gérin-Lajoie, Richard Henriquez, Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg, Lahaie-Ouellet, Phyllis Lambert, John C. Parkin, Jacques Rousseau, Saucier + Perrotte, Shim-Sutcliffe, and van Ginkel Associates.