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Cornelia Hahn Oberlander

Cornelia Hahn Oberlander: Making the Modern Landscape

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Cornelia Hahn Oberlander
    Book Description:

    Cornelia Hahn Oberlander is one of the most important landscape architects of the twentieth century, yet despite her lasting influence, few outside the field know her name. Her work has been instrumental in the development of the late-twentieth-century design ethic, and her early years working with architectural luminaries such as Louis Kahn and Dan Kiley prepared her to bring a truly modern-and audaciously abstract-sensibility to the landscape design tradition.

    In Cornelia Hahn Oberlander: Making the Modern Landscape,Susan Herrington draws upon archival research, site analyses, and numerous interviews with Oberlander and her collaborators to offer the first biography of this adventurous and influential landscape architect. Born in 1921, Oberlander fled Nazi Germany at the age of eighteen with her family, going on to become one of the few women to graduate from Harvard University's Graduate School of Design in the late 1940s. For six decades she has practiced socially responsible and ecologically sensitive planning for public landscapes, including the 1970s design of the Robson Square landscape and its adjoining Provincial Law Courts-one of Vancouver's most famous spaces.

    Herrington places Oberlander within a larger social and aesthetic context, chronicling both her personal and professional trajectory and her work in New York, Philadelphia, Vancouver, Seattle, Berlin, Toronto, and Montreal.

    Oberlander is a progenitor of some of the most significant currents informing landscape architecture today, particularly in the area of ecological focus. In her thorough biography, Herrington draws much-deserved attention to one of the truly important figures in landscape architecture.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3536-2
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Marc Treib

    Until quite recently it would have been difficult to name a significant landscape architect working in Canada — although as we learn from this book, for more than four decades there has been at least one woman who could claim that accolade. The name we should have known, of course, is Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, who moved to Vancouver in 1953 and has been engaged in active practice there ever since. It has been said that landscape architecture is an invisible profession, given that the public tends to identify trees, shrubs, and flowers as the result of natural processes rather than purposeful...

    (pp. xv-xvi)
    (pp. 1-10)

    This account of Cornelia Hahn Oberlander’s life work also tells a story of modern landscape architecture. Both a biography and a history, I chronicle Oberlander’s career as it plays out ahead and alongside the profession’s unfolding from World War II to the present in North America. Most people know Oberlander for her award-winning rooftop landscapes and her unwavering promotion of green design, which show no grey patches of ambiguity. But lesser known is that Oberlander has been steadily practicing landscape architecture since 1947. This fact is not always evident when meeting her, for she exudes both the possibilities of youth...

    (pp. 11-30)

    The following chronicles Cornelia Hahn Oberlander’s life from childhood to her graduation from Harvard University in 1947. It gives an account of her motives as well as the circumstances that have shaped her life, and eventually her practice as a landscape architect. Here, Oberlander’s own words order the narrative. These brief passages speak to her identity: her experiences in Weimar Germany and her mother’s gardening and writing endeavors, her resolve to assimilate and not let the appreciably traumatic events from her past feature disproportionately in her future, and her sheer determination to be a modern landscape architect. These quotations and...

    (pp. 31-96)

    An analysis of the 1951Landscape Architectureexhibit catalog opens this chapter. The project types and modes of representation featured in the catalog are a testament to the growing conviction that the profession must design for all segments of society — a belief realized by the fact that numerous socially germane projects were made available after the war. Historically, landscape architecture has always included some measure of social responsibility, but in the postwar years this thinking was tied to a new aesthetic that would help give form to the social efficacy of landscapes. Borrowed largely from architecture, I describe how abstraction,...

    (pp. 97-148)

    The following describes how more spatially complex experiences afforded by the idea of environment increasingly occupied Oberlander’s and other landscape architects’ thinking in the 1960s and 1970s. While the use of the term “environ” in the English language dates back to the seventeenth century, it proved to be a particularly fertile concept for the design professions starting in the 1960s, when it conjoined ideas of experience with the physical world and the human condition it espoused. As a consequence, the interest in experience, environments, and psychology changed the way landscape architecture history was conceived. Instead of a strictly formalist interpretation...

    (pp. 149-198)

    This chapter begins with Oberlander’s and the profession’s increasing support of the environment as a “movement,” which sought to stop the degradation of ecological systems. For landscape architects enlisted in the environmental cause this support went deeper than preventative measures against pollution and to the root of the design process itself. As the landscape architectural theorist Elizabeth K. Meyer has observed, the movement changed the way landscape architecture was practiced. Ecological information and analyses became primary factors in site analyses.¹ It also followed that the environment was increasingly interpreted for its nonhuman ecological attributes. While early proponents of the environment,...

    (pp. 199-218)

    The following describes some of the design inventions that Oberlander has devised over the years. Given the scope of new projects available to landscape architects after World War II and the new design vocabulary emerging in the profession, Oberlander was often pressed to invent her own details, techniques, and design approaches.

    Marc Treib commented at a panel discussion in 2009 at the annual conference of the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture that we are still trying to understand the types of design approaches used by modern landscape architects. Those landscape architects designing at the human scale were not always...

    (pp. 219-226)

    I openedCornelia Hahn Oberlander: Making the Modern Landscapewith the claim that Oberlander’s narrative is also a story of modern landscape architecture. Given that her practice has spanned more than half a century, her life work has provided detailed accounts of modern landscape architecture’s unfolding. Bracketed by the “Identity” chapter and the “Invention” chapter, I described three layers within her oeuvre: the social, psychological, and formal qualities of modern landscapes (in the “Housework” chapter), the human experiential qualities that landscapes afford (in the “Human Environment” chapter), and the ecological potency that landscapes can bring to a project (in the...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 227-244)
    (pp. 245-261)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 262-272)