A Blueprint for a Career Adventure in Architecture
By Rose Marie Bresolin
Born in Windsor, Ontario, Karen’s love for art began to show through at an early age.
Karen: I always loved drawing and painting and I remember getting encouragement from my high school art teacher. And from there I took an art course at Willistead Library, now called Willistead Manor.
Rose Marie Bresolin: Ah yes, the iconic Willistead Building. As a kid it reminded me of the Disney Castle. Really glad to hear that a teacher encouraged you in your talent. Maybe you can also tell us a little about the role your parents played in helping you build up the strong belief in yourself.
Karen: My dad passed before I was thirteen, so, I don’t know how much talking there would have been about the future before that. But, yes, I remember him as being very creative. He was always making things for us; building things, like our rec room and the furniture in it. And then there was the play station that we loved. And every winter he would build a skating rink so me and my sister could skate in our backyard. So, yes, I would say that he inspired me.
After completing high school in Windsor, Karen attended the University of Waterloo’s School of Architecture. In her busy schedule, Karen made the time to visit a grade 8 gifted class I was then teaching. Bringing in designs, she herself created, Karen shared them in her presentation to students; her words raised awe among them. Throughout her time spent with the class, she guided students in creating their own designs. I recall well that in the case of some students, her influence continued to show up in the quality of their work. I wonder as I write this, at the reaction by those among them who will read about Karen in Spencer and discover just how far reaching her influence has gone on to be.
“I always loved drawing and painting and I remember getting encouragement from my high school art teacher.”
In the fall of 1987, Karen and Mark changed from their wedding clothes to backpacks and set out to venture into a far wider world. During their travels through Asia, they happened to arrive in Tokyo at the same time that a team was working on Canada’s first Embassy building there. Karen applied for a job to work on the project, and on being hired, the couple extended their stay until the Embassy was completed.
Karen: Those were the golden years of the Japanese economy. We felt lucky to have been there precisely when the building of the Embassy was in progress. When the project was finished, we returned to Canada and I was subsequently hired on with The Department of External Affairs. It’s since been renamed to Foreign Affairs, with their own design division for around the world.
Rose Marie: It’s easy to see your respect for the environment reflected in your designs. Tell us what was behind the display you came up with for the Metro Trade Centre in Toronto.
Karen: Yes, that would have been during the late 90’s after I was hired on by Rice Brydone. The display we designed for that exhibit was to showcase an arrangement of inner space that was futuristic for the time. We used sustainable materials to design space that was both useful and aesthetically pleasing while also looking to conserve our most valued resources.
As Karen’s career in architecture continued to soar, she was hired by B+H Architects and Design and moved on to become the first female partner to the firm.
Karen: And when they opened an office in Shanghai, I was asked if I would take charge of it. It was not an easy decision to make, and I didn’t make it alone. My husband Mark Ceolin, a PHD and professor at Ryerson at the time, had some soul searching to do as well. He and I discussed it at length before coming to a decision to set off for Asia again. We share a sense of adventure and we love to travel. I guess you could say, that we have evolved into a global family, comfortable with living in various locations.
Rose Marie: You have two children, a daughter Mattea, who’s in grade 8, and son, Sebastian, attending university in New York, and you visit often. You also keep a home here in Toronto and you go into work in the Toronto office from time to time. It’s got to be a challenge for you to sustain the energy to juggle everything.
“I’ve never stopped feeling blessed in having a supportive, creative and adventurous partner on a career.”
Karen: I love what I do. Everything is challenging. I haven’t found a day yet where that’s not the case. And having a loving family to go home to adds to the excitement and really rounds off a day. I’ve never stopped feeling blessed in having a supportive, creative and adventurous partner on a career. We wouldn’t be here talking about this today, if Mark hadn’t been there for me. And Mark has since gone on to run a successful marketing and communications firm in Shanghai.
Karen has continued to make a name for herself and to play a principal role in expanding Canada’s global print on the world of architecture. She has assumed the responsibility for other offices that were subsequently opened in Hong Kong and Vietnam. In heading the GM Shanghai initiative, Karen has been at the forefront of the joint project between GM and China.
Collaborating with Tongji Architectural Design Group, B+H designed the Shanghai General Motors & PATAC Jinqiao project as a next generation R&D campus that showcases the latest trends in the automotive industry and promotes innovation. “Our vision lies in creating an educational and inspirational working environment with optimal circulation flow that creates synergies, sparks creativity and increases efficiency.”
Part of the uniqueness of Karen’s designs is her ability to form new connections that extend the bounds of impressive structures already in existence. You can learn more about projects that Karen and her team are engaged in and check out the many other exciting and forward thinking projects by B+H Architects in Toronto and around the world, by visiting their website: www.bharchitects.com