About Cornelia Hahn Oberlander
This year we honour Cornelia Hahn Oberlander for her lifetime commitment to building sustainable habitats and her unwavering dedication to the Jewish community and Vancouver’s Temple Sholom.
“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,” she says.
Born in Mulheim-Ruhr, Germany in 1921, Cornelia escaped Nazi Germany two weeks before Krishtalnacht in 1938 with her mother and sisters. By 1940, she had begun her studies in landscape architecture. One of the earliest female graduates from the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University, she embraced modernist ideas and values that encouraged collaboration across disciplines – a concept that became an Oberlander hallmark.
Cornelia has been concerned for the public’s well being throughout her career. In the early 1950s, she worked as a community planner for the Citizens’ Council on City Planning, and on public housing projects. In 1953, she moved to Vancouver, B.C. and continued working on public landscapes as well as private homes. She participated in creating national playground guidelines and, over the following years, designed more than seventy playgrounds across Canada.
Cornelia’s collaboration over more than six decades with some of the world’s most prominent architects resulted in many noteworthy projects in Canada and the United States, including Vancouver’s Robson Square Provincial Government Center and Courthouse Complex, the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, and the Canadian Chancery in Washington D.C.
As a founding member of Temple Sholom, Cornelia, along with her beloved late husband Peter Oberlander, helped envision a Reform, progressive Jewish congregation in Vancouver. Through their tireless efforts, they literally planted the seeds that have grown into Temple Sholom becoming the largest Jewish congregation in the Vancouver region.
Cornelia dreamt about designing green spaces from the time that she was 11 years old. Now at 95, she sees herself as a mentor and role model for the next generation of “Dreamers and Builders.”
rs and Builders”.