- University of British Columbia Archives
Heinz Peter Oberlander was a Canadian architect and Canada's first professor of urban and regional planning. He enjoyed four decades of teaching, research and public service in Canada. He became the founding Director of the UBC School of Community and Regional Planning, the founding Director of the Centre for Human Settlements, and a Member of the Order of Canada.
Oberlander, OC, PhD FRAIC LLD (HON), was born in Vienna, Austria on November 29, 1922. He emigrated with his family to Canada in 1940 to escape Nazi-occupied Europe and earned a Bachelor of Architecture degree in 1945 at the School of Architecture at McGill University. Oberlander became the first Canadian to earn a Master of City of Planning degree from Harvard's Graduate School of Design in 1947 and subsequently, in 1957, became the first Canadian to obtain a Doctorate in Regional Planning from Harvard. After graduation from Harvard, Oberlander worked first in England before returning to Canada in July 1948 to work for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's Department of Research and Education. There he wrote a brief to the Massey Commission on the need for federal government fellowship support of the arts and sciences. The brief prompted UBC President, Dr. Norman MacKenzie, to ask Oberlander to launch Canada's first professional program in Community and Regional Planning (SCARP), established in 1954.
Oberlander became the founding Director of the UBC School of Community and Regional Planning and subsequently founding Director of the Centre for Human Settlements, devoted to planning research. From 2001 to 2002, he served as chair of the Applied Planning Assistant Program Advisory Committee, which provided advice in setting up the APA Program at Langara College. From 1995 Oberlander served as Adjunct Professor in Political Science at Simon Fraser University. He was concurrently UBC Professor Emeritus in Community and Regional Planning until his death.
Oberlander's commitment to public service work in British Columbia and Canada included being the co-founder of the Lower Mainland Regional Planning Board in 1949. He was also Chair of Vancouver's Town Planning Commission in 1967 until he resigned in opposition to the city's ill-fated freeway plans for Downtown Vancouver. In 1970, Oberlander served at the federal level for three years as the inaugural Secretary (Deputy Minister) of the newly established Federal Ministry of State for Urban Affairs. During his three-year tenure, he created a process of tri-level consultation on urban development among federal/provincial/municipal governments for the planned re-use of redundant federal lands for local community needs. These areas included Vancouver's Granville Island and Toronto's Harbourfront.
Between 1998 and 2008, Oberlander also served as a Federal Citizenship Court Judge. Oberlander's international public service began in 1952 with work on a three-member team assembled by the United Nation's Centre for Housing, Building and Planning in New York. In 1958 he was asked by the UN to assist Ghana in developing a national housing policy. Later in 1976, Oberlander created the UBC Centre for Human Settlements, which served as a depository for audio-visual materials from the 1976 UN Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat I). Between 1980 and 1990, Oberlander served on the Canadian delegations to the UN Commission's annual meetings on Human Settlements in Nairobi, Kenya. In 1996 he was appointed Special Assistant to Dr. Wally N'Dow, Secretary-General for the Habitat II conference in Istanbul, Turkey. In the early years of the new millennium, Oberlander became instrumental in securing Vancouver, BC, as the 2006 UN-Habitat World Urban Forum (WUF 3).
In the 1960s, Oberlander worked extensively with Thompson, Berwick and Pratt, an architectural and planning firm in Vancouver. During the 1990s, Oberlander maintained his professional involvement as Associate Partner with Downs/Archambault and Partners (now DA Architects & Planners) in Vancouver.
His many awards included an Honorary Doctorate from UBC in 1998, the President's Lifetime Achievement Award of the Canadian Institute of Planners at its inaugural presentation in 2006, a Civic Merit Award from the City of Vancouver in 2008 and posthumously, the United Nations Scroll of Honour Award on World Habitat Day, October 4, 2009, for his work and dedication in improving global urban living conditions.
Oberlander married architect and fellow Member of the Order of Canada Cornelia Hahn in 1953. The pair collaborated extensively on professional projects throughout their marriage until his death on December 27, 2008.