International landscape architecture prize named for Cornelia Hahn Oberlander (BLA ’47)

Cornelia Hahn Oberlander (center) at a GSD event in 2014 with Peter Walker (second from the right) and Gary Hilderbrand (far right).

A new international landscape architecture prize has been named for Harvard University Graduate School of Design alum Cornelia Hahn Oberlander (BLA ’47). Established by the Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), the $100,000 “Oberlander Prize” will be awarded every other year beginning in 2021—the year Oberlander will turn 100 years old.

“It was the consensus of the Prize Advisory Committee, which helped shaped the Prize, and TCLF’s Board of Directors, that Cornelia Oberlander’s inspiring and trailblazing career in the field of landscape architecture exemplifies the critical values and ideals of the Prize, and that she is someone who embodies the Prize criteria of creativity, courage, and vision,” said Charles A. Birnbaum (LF ’98), President & CEO of TCLF.

A member of the class of 1947, Oberlander was one of the first women admitted to the GSD. She described herself as “elated” upon receiving her acceptance letter from Dean Joseph Hudnut and recalls sharing desk space with Lawrence Halprin (BLA ’44), who became a good friend.

Before moving to Vancouver with her late husband H. Peter Oberlander (MCP ’47, PhD ’57), whom she met on a GSD picnic, Oberlander worked with Louis Kahn in Pennsylvania and Dan Kiley in Vermont. She founded her own landscape architecture firm in 1953 and became known for her environmentally conscious and collaborative work. Among her many honors, Oberlander is a member of the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects’ College of Fellows (1981) and the American Society of Landscape Architects’ Council of Fellows (1992).

A leader in her field for over 60 years, Oberlander still finds time to give back. “It is important at this point in my career to mentor the younger generation,” Oberlander told Harvard Alumni in a 2014 profile. “It gives me satisfaction to pass along my knowledge of the field of landscape architecture and my philosophy of five p’s—patience, persistence, politeness, professionalism, and passion.”