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Reviewed by: Brian Thompson on 2015-10-01

In the summer of 2013, I visited Vancouver, B.C. Across the street from my hotel was a wonderful urban space, Robson Square; I spent one morning of my precious two days exploring this space. On the same trip I visited the dazzling new visitor center at the VanDusen Botanical Gardens. Although these two projects had widely spaced completion dates (1983 and 2011), the landscape architect for both projects was Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, the subject of a new biography by Susan Herrington.

Oberlander, in addition to being one of the premier landscape architects of our region, has lived a fascinating life – she and her family escaped Nazi Germany shortly before World War II. She graduated from the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 1947, one of the first women to do so, and spent several years of her early career on projects in Philadelphia “…working directly with communities and incorporating their views into the design process.”

She and her husband moved permanently to Vancouver in the late 1950s when the city was…”a tiny town…I was able to conquer new ground. In the east I would have never been able to do that.” She also became a mother and this perhaps led to a strong interest in the design of playgrounds, using her three children as subjects in her research on what design elements work from a child’s perspective. One of her most famous projects was the outdoor play environment at Expo 67 in Montreal, which proved more popular than the more structured, indoor Children’s Creative Centre it adjoined.

The Jim Everett Memorial Park on the University of British Columbia campus is one of Oberlander’s more recent projects (2002). Intended for the children of students living in nearby university housing, the challenges were significant: liability issues surrounding playgrounds have tightened in recent years and there were already several demands on the space for junior soccer, festivals, and providing pleasing views from the resident’s apartments. The results relied on a landscaping – berms, sunken ovals, and small mounds – and limited hardscape, mostly seating areas for the parents, to create the play space. There is no playground equipment. In the planning state, one member of the public declared a “playground without a swing-set, slides, and teeter-totters was un-Canadian!” This same parent, observing her children happily at play in the completed park, commented to Oberlander that this was “not so much a Canadian playground as a human one.”

While these small scale projects have been very successful, Oberlander is best known for her larger works, which include subjects in a wide range of settings and climate zones such as the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia (1976 and 1997), the Legislative Assembly Building in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories (1994), and the courtyard of the New York Times building (2007).

Excerpted from the Fall 2015 Arboretum Bulletin.

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Reviewed by: Brian Thompson on 2015-10-01

Richard Haag’s life story, as told in “The Landscape Architecture of Richard Haag”, a new biography by Thaïsa Way, has many twists and turns before he arrived in the Pacific Northwest. Growing up on a family nursery and farm near Louisville, Kentucky, he studied and was mentored on both coasts and in Midwest, but a two year visit to Japan, as one of the first recipients of a Fulbright scholarship to visit that country, he later claimed “changed my whole life.” Here he learned “conservation and economy…[and] working with what you have.”

He came to Seattle in 1958 to develop what became the Landscape Architecture Department at the University of Washington. One of the core courses, “Theory and Perception”, Haag taught from 1959 to 1996, “using it to articulate his vision of landscape architecture as a melding of the humanities, the arts, and the sciences, a means of stewardship of the earth and its cultures.”

He continued his private practice as well, and it is from this that he has his greatest fame today, primarily through two projects. The first, Gas Works Park, is the result of a nearly 20-year public debate. Haag’s ability as a designer is almost overshadowed by his ability as a political operator. His techniques for transforming a highly toxic site into a safe place for the public, all with the minimum of soil removal, is also a remarkable. He certainly mastered “working with what you have.”

The story of his work at the Bloedel Reserve is not quite as unqualified a success. Some of his designs, most notably the Garden of Planes, were later removed. Other plans were altered despite the notable accolades they received. A thread throughout this book is the challenges Haag faced to be honored in his profession, and—since he is now in his 90s—to see his projects live on as he intended.

Excerpted from the Fall 2015 Arboretum Bulletin.

Link to this review (permalink)


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August 01 2017 12:36:01