British Columbia

Cornelia Oberlander, landscape architecture icon, dies at age 99

Oberlander, who died Saturday, has been awarded the Freedom of the City Award by Vancouver city council.

Oberlander escaped Nazi Germany at 18 and graduated from Harvard before settling in Vancouver

Oberlander's contributions to include logs as seating on Vancouver's public beaches, Robson Square, the Vancouver Public Library Central Branch rooftop garden and the VanDusen Botanical Garden Visitor Centre. (Chanel Blouin/Photo submitted by the city of Vancouver)

Cornelia Oberlander, a pioneer in landscape architecture whose work continues to define the character of Vancouver, died Saturday at the age of 99, days after Vancouver city council voted to grant her the Freedom of the City Award.

According to the city, Oberlander escaped Nazi persecution in Germany at the age of 18 and immigrated to the United States. She graduated among the first class of women from Harvard University with a degree in landscape architecture.

She later settled in Vancouver, where she founded her own landscape architecture firm, "bringing with her a vision of urban environments with pockets of nature that continues to shape our cityscape," reads a statement from the city.

Oberlander's contributions include Robson Square, the Vancouver Public Library Central Branch rooftop garden, the VanDusen Botanical Garden visitor centre, and the idea to use logs as natural seating on Vancouver's public beaches.

If you've ever leaned up against a log on a public beach in Vancouver, you have Oberlander to thank. (Evan Mitsui)

She also designed landscapes for Vancouver General Hospital's burn unit garden, as well as UBC's Museum of Anthropology and C.K. Choi Building.

"Vancouver residents and visitors continue to benefit from Oberlander's dream of 'green cities' that infuse rural and urban harmony," read the statement from the city.

Tell us what you think!

Help shape the future of CBC article pages by taking a quick survey.

Oberlander also made her mark nationally and internationally, designing landscapes for non-market housing and playgrounds across the country.

She helped draft national guidelines for the creation of play spaces in Canada, and worked on major projects like the National Gallery of Canada, and the Canadian Chancery in Washington, D.C.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart wrote in the statement that Oberlander was also one of Vancouver's most renowned Jewish residents.

"During Jewish Heritage Month this May, we honour her outstanding accomplishments in bringing world-class landscape design to Canada, and to Vancouver in particular. On behalf of council, I extend my deepest sympathies to her family and friends. May her memory be a blessing," Stewart said in the statement.

Oberlander contributed to the Vancouver Public Library Central Branch rooftop garden. It was renovated and opened to the public in 2018. (Vancouver Public Library)

The Freedom of the City Award is Vancouver's most prestigious, an honour reserved for "individuals who have gained national or international acclaim in their field and brought recognition to Vancouver through their work," according to the city. 

The first Freedom of the City Award was granted in 1936.