HAA: Cornelia Oberlander BLA ’47: Force of Nature
Cornelia Hahn Oberlander BLA ’47 was 11 years old when she realized—with some conviction—that she wanted to be a landscape architect. Sitting for a portrait in the Berlin studio of a prominent German artist, Oberlander observed a mural that depicted an imaginary town on the Rhine River. She asked the painter to explain the green spaces that dotted the artwork. “Parks,” the artist replied. “When I came home,” Oberlander recalls, “I said: ‘Mother, I want to do parks.’ And Mother replied: ‘Then you’ll have to learn how to drive a bulldozer.’”
During a career spanning 60 years (and counting), Oberlander has done her fair share of parks. A pioneer in the field of sustainable design, an early proponent of green roofs, and a champion of collaboration, Oberlander has been called the dean of postwar female landscape architects, and her extensive oeuvre shows why. She once said that her dream is “green cities with green buildings where rural and urban activities live in harmony.” Often dressed in a green jacket, Oberlander is still actively fulfilling that dream at age 92.
“Landscape architecture is a fabulous field that is more in demand than ever,” she says. “We need to take care of our environment. We have to have places to play for children. We have to have places for recreation. It means having a corner in the city, and a bench, and a tree to sit and contemplate away from a very busy world.”
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