It was curious to see the debate about Jane Jacobs and her philosophy on the anniversary of her birth one hundred years ago. I am reminded that debate is healthy and good, and I should listen to debate more. I am also reminded that we also still work with giants in our midst. For me one of those giants is the remarkable landscape architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander.
If you have met Cornelia, attended her lectures, or read her books, you know that she is focused, knows her plants inside out, and is passionate about doing the right work. She also completely practices what she preaches- Cornelia does “invisible mending”, restoring and building in landscapes around buildings in such an extraordinary way that you never knew the landscape did not exist before the building was built.
Cornelia had a famous partnership with Vancouver architect Arthur Erickson among many other world-wide consultancies and commissions.
Cornelia’s landscapes are legendary. My favourite is at the Museum of Anthropology at University of British Columbia where she has designed a curved river and a pebble beach to the north of the longhouses. The view is designed so you can imagine canoes hidden in the curve of your sight line paddling up to the beach. It’s a great public space.
I have been out at the Museum of Anthropology in winter and found Cornelia with her gum boots on in the middle of the pond she created, ostensibly taking photos for a Christmas card. I know she was actually checking the water filtration system. Douglas Coupland the author and artist walked by the pond at that moment and smiled at Cornelia. It does not get any more Canadian than this.
Cornelia has just received the first award of the Governor General’s Medal in Landscape Architecture. It is “the highest honour bestowed upon a landscape architect by the Canadian Society of Landscape Architecture” celebrating lifetime achievements and contributions to the profession.
Congratulations to Cornelia who has always championed Canadian flora and sustainability in her designs. She has been an unfailing mentor to students and to practitioners. We are just now catching up with what she has been teaching us for decades.