Celebrating the donation of the Oberlander collection

- December 3, 2019

A selection from the Oberlander collection. (Bruce Bottomley photos)
A selection from the Oberlander collection. (Bruce Bottomley photos)

A significant new collection of over 500 books is now available at the Dalhousie Libraries. The materials were all handpicked by one of Canada’s most eminent landscape architects, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander.

Ms. Oberlander, a Companion of the Order of Canada and one of the first women to graduate from Harvard with a landscape architecture degree in 1947, has designed both high-profile buildings in Canada, Europe and the U.S. and landscapes for low-income housing projects. She also designed landscapes for playgrounds, including the Children's Creative Centre Playground, Canadian Federal Pavilion, featured at Expo '67 in Montréal.

With over 70 years of experience as a landscape architect, Ms. Oberlander has amassed a significant professional library. Recently, she donated that collection to the Dalhousie Libraries.

Ms. Oberlander reached out to Christine Macy, then dean for the Faculty of Architecture & Planning, in June 2018. She wanted to donate her professional collection to Dalhousie University after hearing about the construction of the new Emera IDEA Building at Dalhousie’s Sexton campus and because the university was working towards starting a master’s program in landscape architecture at Sexton Campus.

“The materials in the Oberlander collection are wonderfully diverse, including books on grasses, trees, flowers, and the importance of bees, butterflies, and insects. This collection will be invaluable to aspiring and experienced landscape architects,” says Donna Bourne-Tyson, Dean of Libraries. “On behalf of the Dalhousie Libraries, I’d like to express our sincere thanks to Cornelia Hahn Oberlander for this significant gift.”

An extraordinary acquisition

Most of the collection is at the Sexton Design & Technology Library and some of the collection is at the MacRae Library, but books can be sent to any Novanet library through the Novanet Express service, making them accessible to a much wider audience. Many of the titles are unique to the Novanet catalogue.

To celebrate this extraordinary acquisition, the Dal Libraries recently held a reception with attendees from the local architecture community, faculty members from the Faculties of Architecture & Planning and Agriculture and other special guests. (Ms. Oberlander, based in Vancouver, was not available to attend.)

Dean of Architecture & Planning Joseli Macedo (left) with Dean of Libraries Donna Bourne-Tyson.

Donna Bourne-Tyson hosted the event, which featured remarks from the Dean of Architecture & Planning Joseli Macedo, Associate Dean Resources and Head of the Sexton Design & Technology Library Michelle Paon, local landscape architect Sue Sirrs, and former Dean of Architecture & Planning Christine Macy.

Sue Sirrs, landscape architect.

Both Sue Sirrs and Christine Macy know Ms. Oberlander personally. Sue Sirrs shared a collection of personal photographs featuring Ms. Oberlander and a group of local landscape architects, remarks from Ms. Oberlander’s convocation address when she received an honorary doctorate from Dalhousie in 2008, as well as a humorous anecdote praising Ms. Oberlander’s steadfast nature.

Christine Macey, former Dean of Architecture & Planning.

Christine Macy explained the significance of the ginko leaf, Ms. Oberlander’s personal symbol, which represents longevity and endurance. Like the ginko leaf, Ms. Oberlander herself embodies longevity and endurance as she maintains her landscape architecture practice into her 90s. In correspondence with the Dal Libraries, Ms. Oberlander explained that she found a ginkgo leaf in Nanjing in 1976 on a walk to the tomb of Sun Yat-sen, a Chinese philosopher, physician, and politician considered by many to be one of the greatest leaders of modern China.

Preparing the collection

The task of processing and preparing the collection for the shelves has taken staff and librarians at the Dal Libraries the better part of this year, and as they worked, they delighted in becoming acquainted with this unique collection. In addition to the materials added to library shelves, the Dal Libraries will be making some items, mostly duplicate titles, freely available to students, according to Ms. Oberlander’s wishes, giving students the opportunity to add to or start their own professional libraries.

“Thanks to Ms. Oberlander’s generosity, this collection adds a significant dimension to the landscape architecture resources of the Dalhousie Libraries,” says Michelle Paon. “Faculty, students, alumni, community members, and researchers will have access to a wider range of relevant materials as well as the opportunity to consult books and journals that both informed and inspired Ms. Oberlander’s landscape architecture decisions.”

Cornelia Hahn Oberlander continues to inspire the landscape architecture community. Recently, The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) announced that the $100,000 International Landscape Architecture Prize will be named for Ms. Oberlander, who they call “the Dean of Canadian landscape architects.”

More information about the Oberlander collection, including the complete lists of titles added to the Dalhousie Libraries, is available at the Dal Libraries website.


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