You know how it is, when you meet someone who is older, much older, like 93 and they are still very together. All you (I) can think about is how did they manage it? Will I be like that? What is their secret? On Wednesday night, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, landscape architect, could remember every project she worked on, the exact date the project was built and all the architects she has worked with for 75 years. The evening was billed as a conversation with Susan Herrington about her new book, Making the Modern Landscape. It turned out to be much more than that. It was revelatory.
Entering the third floor gallery at the Central Park Arsenal, the screen featured a slide of a young child, age 4 or 5 on skis in the Alps. The conversation began with this photograph.
Cornelia Hahn Oberlander laughed when she saw the picture. “I was a risk-taker early in life.” Is that what it takes to reach a ripe old age, be enthusiastic, and still working? The secret to Oberlander’s longevity was not disclosed during the evening. We were left to draw our own conclusions. I barely heard what Oberlander was saying about her work. I was obsessed with her life.
Oberlander has been an innovator since her early days. She was the first woman to graduate from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. “The basic design course I took with Walter Chambers, I still use today. It’s my diving board to big things.” Her work in fifties, sixties and seventies was groundbreaking, although it’s hard to have that historical perspective today. What separates Oberlander from other landscape architects is her lifelong journey to push the envelope. Her current work is all about sustainability.
Near the end of the evening, Cornelia told us about the 3 P’s, which became the 5 P’s:
Oberlander had the 3 p’s in place for most of her life. In her sixth decade, an architect friend suggested adding the last two p’s.
I know the 5 p’s are important. I am still ruminating… are these the key ingredients to a life well lived.