Landscape architect Cornelia Oberlander


Cornelia Oberlander, the pre-eminent Canadian landscape architect noted for long collaborations with Arthur Erickson and Moshe Safdie among other things, designed the landscape for Erickson’s famed Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. The Museum was completed in 1976, but for the past 34 years Oberlander’s reflecting pool has remained empty, partly due to the city’s concerns about earthquakes and the unstable cliffs that lie just between the museum and the beach below. Finally the six-inch-deep, clay-lined pool has been filled and you can suddenly see how it completes the architecture. (See before photo below.) The building references local First Nations post-and-beam longhouse architecture which was traditionally set near the shoreline on shale beaches, so Oberlander’s pool is essential to the museum’s appearance. It’s also key to the feel of the adjacent replica native village. I had a chance to visit the pool with Oberlander and obviously she is thrilled with the completion of the job. I had originally written here that it was sad that Arthur Erickson was never able to see the pool reflect his building, but in fact he did. One condition he made when Paramount wanted to film “Intersection” at the MoA with Richard Gere and Sharon Stone was that the pool would be filled just for the shoot, and it was. For more see news report at bottom.

UBC Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver, by Arthur Erickson

Museum of Anthropology - pool by Cornelia Oberlander

Museum of Anthropology - pool by Cornelia Oberlander

Museum of Anthropology - pool by Cornelia Oberlander

Museum of Anthropology - pool by Cornelia Oberlander

Both evening photos below by Kevin Teichroeb.

Oberlander, well known for her sensitivity to natural local landscapes, has had an influential and extremely prolific career, designing landscapes for Vancouver’s Robson Square, the National Gallery of Canada, the Vancouver Public Library and the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly building. I’ve loved her landscapes since I was a child, when I thought of her landscaping around Arthur Erickson’s courthouse and Robson Square as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. See photos below. It’s an oasis in the middle of the city.

Read more about her work in Metropolis and Dexigner. Harvard-educated, Oberlander has made many influential and thoughtful contributions to landscape architecture and is compelling to listen to – see video.

From the University of British Columbia’s UBC Reports, 1994:

“Don’t tell Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin, but the Museum of Anthropology wasn’t spruced up on their behalf. Yes, the museum was cleaned inside and out, from the carpets to the top of the tallest totem pole, just before the summit. But the job was done by Paramount Pictures for the filming of its movie “Intersection,” starring Richard Gere and Sharon Stone.

“It just happened to be in time for the presidents’ visit,’’ said Jill Baird, a student intern who works as a communication assistant at the MOA.

Baird’s job involves working with movie directors and technical staff to sort out logistics and make sure crews comply with the museum’s rules and regulations.

With a budget of $40 million, Intersection is the biggest, most expensive film ever shot in Vancouver, and Baird was on the scene as filming took place over four nights at the museum.

During filming, which went until dawn each morning, the exterior of the museum, including the Haida houses, was brilliantly illuminated with huge crane-mounted spotlights.

“It looked absolutely spectacular. It was really quite beautiful to see the whole thing transformed.” Baird said.

In the movie, Gere plays Stone’s husband, an architect celebrating the opening of his latest project, the museum. Eighty extras, including the museum’s own Dena Klashinsky, co-ordinator of the Native Youth Program, played the guests.

During the party, Gere’s character’s girlfriend, a writer for the now-defunct Vancouver Step magazine played by Canadian actor Lolita Davidovich, arrives unexpectedly and causes a scene.

Unlike many Hollywood films shot here, this one is actually set in Vancouver and the museum goes by its own name. ”The publicity should be great; the museum looked fabulous,’ Baird said.

Directed by Mark Rydell, Intersection is slated to be Paramount‘s major release for the Christmas season.

This is the third television or film production shot at the museum in the two years Baird has worked there, and it certainly won’t be the last. “Disney phoned the other day. They might want to do something up here too,” she said.

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