CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 22 . . . . June 27, 2008
The name Cornelia Hahn Oberlander may not yet be well known to young people, but her chosen profession is so much in tune with the drive to preserve the environment that they need to be made aware of it. A prominent figure in the field of landscape architecture, Oberlander has left her mark on the settings of buildings such as Robson Square in Vancouver, the Northwest Territories Legislature in Yellowknife, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa and the Canadian Embassy in Berlin. Even into her 80s, she is still a vibrant influence on a new generation of her colleagues.
This biography traces Oberlander's childhood in prewar Germany and her Jewish family's move to the United States where she worked hard to enter a male-dominated profession that had been her dream since age 11. Married to a city planner, she moved to BC where she began to attract attention first for her children's playground designs. The Canadian Pavilion Children's Creative Centre at Expo 67 cast her work in the world's spotlight. Anxious to do bigger projects, she embraced the concept of green roofs that grew from her belief that it is "not only possible that our cities not be concrete jungles, it is essential for our survival." The scope of the impact of green roofs may be seen in the new convention centre under construction in Vancouver in 2008.
The intense personal interest of the author is reflected in the thorough research, attention to detail that brings the subject to life, and the conversational writing style. Interspersed with biographical facts, the reader will find details about the profession of landscape architect, its challenges and rewards. Through Oberlander's struggles to convince doubters and disbelievers of the need to integrate nature with modern construction, the reader will come to understand her beliefs in sustainable development and 'least intervention.'
While the book is promoted as being suited to ages 11 and up, some fairly sophisticated vocabulary, small type size and black and white photos would likely attract an older audience. Photos include those from Oberlander's family archives - naturally only available in black and white. Others depict some of her er landscape projects, but the stunning effect of the natural material is diminished without color. As a librarian, I found children less attracted to books that lacked color illustration.
This book will be a valuable addition to a biography collection of Canadian personalities who have made a lasting impact during a fascinating career. Young people will see more and more evidence of Oberlander's style and philosophy as respect for the environment is promoted in landscape architecture.
Gillian Richardson, a freelance writer and former teacher-librarian, lives in BC.
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