FORGING THE WAY Landscape Practice in Canada 1953-2011
International Federation of Landscape Architects Conference
June 28, 2011
It is a great honor indeed to receive the Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe Award. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Nominations and Award Selection Committees of IFLA for this most meaningful honour. In fact, it is truly overwhelming to be recognized by the International Federation of Landscape Architects for my pioneering work in Canada. It is fortuitous to receive this award in the ancient city of Zurich, laid out by the Zahringer family of Switzerland around 1200AD. I have known Zurich since I was five years old when I went with my mother for walks in the Zuricher Wald and visited my grandmother who was interested to learn about Dr. Bircher-Benner’s famous muesli diet.
IFLA, was founded in 1948 by Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe - at a meeting at Jesus College, Oxford to promote modernism in Landscape Architecture. The idea of landscape architecture as a comprehensive and collaborative profession was still new then. In order to make this understood, Sir Geoffrey described a ‘table for eight’, at the 1960 IFLA conference in Amsterdam. At this table sat eight professions whom he thought would contribute to the landscape of the future.
The landscape architect
The town and country planner
The artist, painter, sculptor
And the philosopher
Over the years, I had the great pleasure to attend several IFLA meetings. The one I remember most was in Haifa, Israel in1962, where Sir Geoffrey, Brenda Colvin and Sylvia Crowe talked about new horizons for our profession, namely Modernism. The most exciting event at this conference was to study drip irrigation (Netafim) which was invented in Israel in a kibbutz, with the hope that it would revolutionized the use of water in the world and bring us new frontiers for agriculture
From my 11th year onward, I had only one wish: to become a landscape architect and to design out-door spaces for the enjoyment of all in urban environments.
Growing up in a garden with large trees and flowers, I learned to love and tend plants under the guidance of my mother, Beate Hahn, a horticulturalist and author of books for teaching gardening to children and mothers. After emigrating from Germany, I grew up on a farm in New Hampshire. In order to prepare for my chosen profession, I went to Smith College in Massachusetts, to learn about architecture, landscape architecture, art, history, and nature. I continued my studies in Landscape Architecture at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.
Walter Gropius, formerly of the Bauhaus in Germany, was then Head of Architecture at Harvard. My professors were Christopher Tunnard and Lester Collins who opened my eyes to Modernism, and I learned to design for present and future needs. From these teachers, I learnt not only collaboration, but basic design principles of line in the Bauhaus tradition, as well as aesthetics, which is still expressed in my designs today.
After graduation I had the good fortune to work in the architects offices of Lou Kahn and Oscar Stonorov in Philadelphia with landscape architect Dan Kiley, from whom I learned the connection between landscape and ecology. One day after a walk in the woods, Dan said, “Cornelia, walk lightly in the woods.” I replied, ‘but Dan, I always wear sneakers.’ He looked at me quizzically and commented no further. Later on, it dawned on me that he meant ‘study the woodland and preserve it’. Thus I learned about the ecology of New England and later of the Pacific Northwest. These few words made me understand that we must learn from nature by observation.
In 1953 Peter Oberlander, my late husband, professor and city planner, as well as a class-mate at Harvard, brought me to Vancouver, Canada - great country with a very young history, especially in our profession. Modernism as I knew it was not yet the established norm and there was only one Landscape Architect in Vancouver. Everyone was concerned with garden-making in the English tradition. There were no schools of Landscape Architecture in Canada at that time, now we have six. My good fortune was that I had learned collaboration with architects very early in my career, and thus I started to work on housing projects and public buildings as soon as I arrived. Writing of specifications for each project as well as supervising each project from beginning to end, during construction brought the profession to a new level.
In 1974 I was called by Arthur Erickson to work on the Provincial Government Courthouse, a three block long project in the middle of Vancouver, known as Robson Square.