Author: Gil Stelter

Publication Date: 2005

Edited: 2021


Historic Guelph V44P4Karl Briestensky in 1992. (Source: Eileen Macrollo).


When we think of distinctive Guelph architecture, what usually comes to mind are some of the great buildings of the Victorian era such as the County Courthouse, City Hall, and the Church of Our Lady, all designed by distinguished architects. The recent death of Guelph's outstanding modern architect, Karl Briestensky (1936-2004), reminds us, however, that much of the city that we know today owes its appearance to Briestensky's work. Briestensky designed nearly all of the most striking modern structures in Guelph, as well as most of the commercial complexes of malls and many of the apartment blocks. All of these buildings, both spectacular and mundane, bear the unmistakable look of his personal, idiosyncratic vision.



This study of Karl's 45 years of designing can only be considered as a first draft of a more considered assessment at a later date. I have relied on a variety of available sources, but there are some basic gaps in the record. The first major source is a detailed list of his firm's work that Karl gave me in 1999 which includes dates of design (construction usually followed by a year or so) and the approximate cost of construction. I've since found that the list was far from complete and did not include many smaller renovations or addition projects, and perhaps those projects that he thought should be forgotten. A second source has been the working drawings of several of his major designs, still housed in the firm's offices. His former partners, Paul Critchley and Barry Johnson, have been very helpful in finding these plans and making them available to me. Much of the earlier work unfortunately, was discarded years ago because of a lack of storage space. I have also managed to find several plans in private hands, especially for houses, and in some cases owners have saved the early conceptual drawings which preceded the final working drawings.


Among the most interesting sources for me have been the interviews I have done that relate to Karl and his work. In 1995, I taped lengthy interviews with Karl and other architects in the area, including colleagues Richard Pagani and Allan Sage. Since Karl's death, I have interviewed his former wife, his daughters, some friends, and a number of former colleagues and business associates. Surprisingly, few knew the total person, for this private man kept his life highly compartmentalized.


Important sources for any facet of the city-building process can be found in the records of the Planning and Building Departments at City Hall. For a quick search of these records in regards to particular buildings I am highly indebted to Norman Harrison, whose career in planning closely paralleled Karl's chronologically. Norm personally worked with Karl on a number of these projects and was able to provide information about the kinds of discussions and negotiations which do not necessarily show up in official documents.


As a historian, I am very much aware of the absence of two other kinds of sources: collections of letters and personal papers, or publications of any kind. Karl was a shy, introverted person whose chief passion was architecture. He expressed this in his designs but not verbally or in writing. Ironically, his two greatest idols, Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, wrote a good deal about their architectural ideas and gave detailed descriptions of many of their works. For Karl, we have to rely on the buildings themselves and on the rather scant comments that I and others have been able to pry out of him.


As for the buildings, I have looked at and photographed most of them and in some cases found photographs of those no longer in existence. A quick introduction to his influence can be seen by driving north (actually northwest) on Victoria Road, starting where College Avenue runs into Victoria Road. Confine your look to your right. Victoria Road is not a particularly attractive street in Guelph, but Briestensky's buildings provide some relief from the generally dreary palette of small industries, nondescript commercial and strip mall development, and modest homes. First to your right, the Turfgrass Institute, set high on a hill overlooking the Eramosa River and the city. Further on, past the industrial area, is one of about seven commercial malls he designed in the city. The Grange and Victoria Plaza, which nestles into the hill above the railroad tracks, were built in stages over a number of years.


Further on is his masterpiece, St. John's Catholic Church and Rectory, with its dramatic bell tower and triangular shape dominating the streetscape. The large Victoria Road Recreation Centre is next, a simple looking building from the outside, but with a complex interior. A little further on you might glance to the left at the Westminster/St. Paul's Church, perhaps the only interesting building on the street not designed by Karl. This church was designed by his friend and former colleague, Richard Pagani, and added to recently by another former colleague, David McAuley. The last Briestensky design on Victoria is further north, in the residential district near the city's northern boundary, where the stylish St. Patrick's School stands out in an otherwise banal neighborhood.


One could also take tours of Briestensky's work in the Downtown where he designed some of the most impressive modern buildings, and also led in the restoration of some of the most important historic structures. Or we could go to the West or South Ends where he designed some of the earliest malls. Karl Briestensky had a creative, artistic approach to architecture, and this aspect of his work came to the fore when given the opportunity by clients. But he was also comfortable with the local and regional business community's demands for relatively low cost, functional buildings that did not seem to have much aesthetic value. In many of these cases, he was still able to produce something distinctive, buildings that could be said to have the Briestensky signature. This usually included sharp angles, triangular shapes, various towers, and especially concrete columns (the sonotubes that he used so frequently). The resulting buildings sometimes were less dramatic than the original drawings, for clients often asked for less radical corners, less extreme peaks, less emphasis on aesthetic considerations.



The family context included the immigrant experience and the world of business. His father, John Briestensky, emigrated from what is now Slovakia in 1926 at the age of 24. He found work in the florist business in Brampton and five years later brought over his wife, Christina, and his first son, Frank. Daughter Eileen was born in Brampton as was Karl, the baby of the family, born on March 25, 1935. The family spoke Slovak in the home and Frank and Eileen were (and are) fluent in that language. Karl knew some Slovak but his ability to speak the language diminished over the years. He did visit some of the remaining family in the village of Precin, near Bratislava, during one of his several trips to Europe after he had become an established architect.1


Historic Guelph Briestensky Family V43P8Briestensky family circa 1938, with parents John and Christina and children Eileen, Karl and Fran. (Source: Eileen Macrollo).


The family moved to Guelph in 1940 when Karl was five. His father purchased an existing greenhouse operation on Woolwich Street across from Woodlawn Cemetery. Here he grew lettuce, chrysanthemums, and tomatoes. Eileen recalls some of their customers who included Edward Johnson, at that time the Manager of the New York Opera Company, and his son-in-law, George Drew. The two would often come to buy tomatoes. Johnson's house was just to the north at Woolwich and Woodlawn, and he gently teased Eileen about the relative maturity of Guelph and New York girls. By 1953, the family business was expanded to include a retail florist shop which was named, "Eileen's Flowers."


The family was Roman Catholic, and their parish was the Church of Our Lady. The children attended St. Stanislaus and St. Agnes' Schools for their early education. Karl was an exceptionally bright student, beginning school before the age of six, skipping a grade, and graduating from Grade 13 at the age of 16 in 1952. Karl graduated from Guelph CVI where he was heavily involved in student activities as well as academics. Music was a central interest. At his father's urgings, he had taken up the accordion and was a member of some of the bands organized by Nick Antonelli, who had a studio on Duke Street. Also in these bands were Richard Pagani, who would also become an architect and colleague, and Matthew Ustreky, later an Auxiliary Bishop. Karl was considered an excellent musician and performed on CIOY the local radio station. Antonelli urged him to consider a professional career; but Eileen says that he told Antonelli, "I don't think I've really got it."


Historic Guelph Briestensky Greenhouse V44P8Briestensky greenhouses on Woolwich Street. (Source: Eileen Macrollo).


Rather, he was attracted to painting, encouraged by a neighbour, Walter Coons, who ran a gas station near the family business. Karl regularly attended the Wednesday night lessons run by the group that would later become the Guelph Creative Arts Association. His family remembers him producing some art during his high school years, but it's not clear what if any of his existing artwork comes from that period.


After graduating from high school in 1952, he worked for a year in the family business, and then decided that he wanted to go to University, instead of making the family business his career. He met his future wife, Virginia McKenna, during that year out of school. She remembers him talking about studying civil engineering, but when he went to the University of Toronto in the fall of 1953, it was to study architecture.2



Historic Guelph V44P9Wright's Falling Water. (Source: Stelter, 1999).


In a taped interview with me in 1995, Karl characterized the approach to architecture at Toronto in the 1950s as primarily that of 'modernism,' the so-called International Style as in the works of the German Bauhaus School, led by Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe.3 The emphasis was on an industrial-like design, plain and rectilinear. His class visited the Illinois Institute of Technology where Mies directed the School of Architecture. Karl was most impressed with the purity of the Miesien designs of steel and glass and by the oft repeated aphorism, "Less is More." But he also felt that the many who imitated these designs, "Never really pulled them off."


His class also did extended visits to Frank Lloyd Wright's headquarters, Taliesen, at Spring Green, Wisconsin, and to several of Wright's houses, including the most famous, Falling Water, at Bear Run, Pennsylvania. Karl's professors considered Wright something of a maverick, not really in the forefront of what architectural design should be. But on these trips, Karl was not only captivated by Wright's personality, but also by the several houses of his that they visited, and by the remarkable headquarters that Wright had designed for the Johnson's Wax Company in Racine, Wisconsin. Students such as Karl were amazed at how Wright could seemingly defy conventional engineering principles in the structures he created.


Historic Guelph V44P10Le Corbusier's Church at Ronchamps. (Source: Stelter, 1999).


Karl felt that perhaps the most direct influence on his evolution as an architect while at Toronto came through a design studio run by a young immigrant from Germany, Eberhard Zeidler. Zeidler later would become one of Canada's leading architects with work such as the Toronto Eaton Centre, Ontario Place, and Canada Place in Vancouver. Zeidler later outlined his approach as one that went beyond a modernism of formal expression, and also beyond the emerging post-modernism with its 'form for form's sake.' To Zeidler, architecture is the creation of space that people enjoy.4


Karl kept up his interest in the latest architectural theory and design throughout his busy career, regularly reading the leading architectural magazines and collecting books on various architects and styles. While traveling, he spent most of his time looking at buildings. He told me that he was very much influenced by seeing Le Corbusier's later work that stressed a sculptural form of architecture such as the church at Ronchamp in France, and the monastery at La Tourette. He was also particularly fond of the work of Antoni Gaudi and often traveled to Spain to see his individualistic works. By the 1960s, Gaudi had become the darling of the North American counterculture as an opponent of the straight line, the corporate grid and all that was programmed and soulless in modern architecture.5


Historic Guelph 747 Woolwich Street yard V44P11747 Woolwich Street, designed and built 1955-1956. (Source: Stelter, 2005).


Much of what Karl designed throughout his life could be considered post-modern in that it moved away from the formality and purity of the modern steel and glass aesthetic to a more diverse approach where exuberant form is adopted for its own sake. His first design, however, was a classic version of modernism. The house he designed for his parents while in third-year architecture was his first work, a sort of demonstration project of what he was studying at Toronto, where modernist thinking held sway. He also worked that summer; and the one following, for Allan Sage, the major architect in Guelph in those years. Most of Sage's work followed closely the modernist 'International Style.' The Briestensky house, near the family greenhouse, is a flat-roofed, one-storey rectangle of more than 1,300 square feet on the ground floor. It also has a full basement. Some of the modernist features included a broad expanse of windows in the living room and dining room that allow the internal and external spaces to flow together, making the house feel bigger on the inside than it appears to be on the outside. Privacy walls of the same brick are connected to the house at each of the four corners, giving a good deal of protection from what became a busy commercial area. Despite his mother's wishes, he displayed a student's confidence in textbook specifications for things like the normal height for cupboards and countertops. His mother, who was very short, later had these removed and replaced at a height she was comfortable with. His lack of experience was also demonstrated by the placement of the bathroom, which is the first thing you face when you open the front door. In the final analysis, however, this first effort was a little gem, showing that he had real promise as a designer.


Historic Guelph 747 Woolwich Street V44P11747 Woolwich Street, Living room and patio. (Source: Stelter, 2005).


Karl kept up his interest in painting during his years studying architecture at Toronto. According to Virginia, his class regularly went north to Dorset, in the Huntsville area, on painting trips, and some of his sketches of rocks and streams, and trees and snow date from these years. One of these watercolours, of the woods at Dorset, hung over the fireplace of his parent's house for many years. After graduation and a return to Guelph as a, "Young local architect," he entered an oil painting in a competition held by the Five Counties Art Association annual exhibit in Burlington. According to the Guelph Mercury, Karl's entry was a, "Large modern-style interpretation," of propane gas tanks, and it won a prize as the, "Most competent painting." Karl was described as a student of Jack Bechtel in an, "Advanced painting class," sponsored by the Guelph Painter's Group (connected with the Guelph Creative Arts Association). Also on the prize list, for the best still life, was Mrs. Helen Brimmell.6 She recalls Karl's art as, "Very original. He had such great verve. We were all fascinated by his approach and enjoyed watching him paint."7


Historic Guelph Sketch V44P12Sketch, 1955.  (Source: Virginia Briestensky).


Everyone in architecture who worked with Karl agrees that he represented the artistic side of the profession. Architecture may be the 'mother of the arts' as some have put it, but it is an art with a difference. A building is not solely a vehicle for the architect's vision but has to be functional as well. Architecture is construction as well as art. And the architect does not work alone. In this essay I refer to Karl's buildings, but a building is always the result of a collaborative effort on the part of the designer, engineers, builders, and owners, not to mention municipal officials and regulators. And the decision of whether or not to build is not the architect's, but the client's.


Historic Guelph Karl's Painting V44P12

Karl's painting of propane tanks, 1959. (Source: Cyndy Naylor).


THE EARLY CAREER (1958-1968)

Karl spent a decade in a semi-nomadic existence before establishing his own firm. In what was normal practice in Guelph according to Elio Stradiotto, a Guelphite who had studied Architectural Drafting at Ryerson Polytechnical, when Karl was at the University of Toronto, several offices shared work and individuals would often work in another office on weekends or at night.8 For this decade, Karl was associated with Allan Sage, Richard Pagani and Lea Matthews in Kitchener. Precise dates do not seem to be available because boundary lines between firms were not very definite.


Historic Guelph V44P13Karl as a graduate architect in 1958. (Source: Eileen Macerollo).


Karl and Virginia were married shortly after he graduated, and they settled in Guelph where he took a position with Allan Sage for whom he had worked two summers as a student. Sage may have been something of a role model for how an architect should work and live. He maintained close ties to the business community; he drank heavily with a group of regular friends; he had a tumultuous personal life; and he drove a Jaguar. All of these characteristics could later be applied to Karl. Sage worked mostly on schools but soon did not have enough work for another architect in the office. So, he asked two good friends who were architects in Burlington to take Karl on to their staff and they did. Karl and Virginia moved to Burlington for about two and a half years. Sage remembers thinking that Karl needed a change from Guelph and his family,9 but Karl and Virginia soon produced their own, with three children in three years: Cyndy in 1959, Mark in 1960, and Maria in 1961.


In 1962 they moved back to Guelph for Karl to work in Lea Matthews' office in Kitchener. They rented a brick house, 47 Callander Drive, where they would live for the next eight and a half years. Their fourth child, John, arrived in 1963. Karl next worked for a time with Richard Pagani. Although Pagani's architectural training at M.I.T. had included a strong emphasis on the artistic side of architecture, Pagani told me that he believed that Karl's ability in that area was superior to his: "I was more practical than Karl is," he remembered in 1995. "Karl is an excellent designer. I think his drawing is much better than mine ever was."10 Karl had primary design responsibilities for several projects while working for Pagani because Pagani concentrated on several larger projects. One of Karl's designs was for a very modern house on Gordon Street South that was inspired by the work of the California architect, Richard Neutra, according to Elio Stradiotto. Some of the main floor was cantilevered over a semi-basement. The house is protected from the street by a privacy wall of the kind that Karl had designed for his parent's house several years earlier. Another house was 98 Callander Drive, for the owner of Cox Construction, Russell Cox. The client had his own strong wishes, and the house has only a few modern touches such as the massive eaves and a good deal of glass.


Historic Guelph V44P14Modern House on Gordon Street South. (Source: Stelter, 2005).


The architectural business, however, closely tied to the ups and downs of the local economy, was not good during this period. In addition, Pagani, frustrated that he was unable to get major commissions from institutions such as the University of Guelph which tended to look to Toronto architects, decided to leave Guelph for a position with H.G. Acres, an engineering conglomerate in Niagara Falls. As a result, Karl was on the move again to another firm. This time it was back to a position as a designer with Lea Matthews in Kitchener, who was now associated with the larger Toronto and Montreal firm, Webb Zercfa Menkes & Matthews. By late 1965 Karl had convinced Matthews of the feasibility of opening a Guelph office, with himself in charge, promoted to the position of an Associate. Elio Stradiotto, who had been in charge of Pagani's office after Pagani left for Niagara Falls, was named as Chief Draftsman in the new office.11 Stradiotto says that in effect they took over Pagani's practice. Among the works that we know Karl designed while with Matthews are the Queensmount Public School in Kitchener, at the corner of Queen Street and Westmount Road. The design was a departure from the pure modern style with more complicated form and irregular massing. In Guelph, Karl designed the connection between Bishop Macdonell High School and the Loretto Academy.12


Historic Guelph V22P15Karl's painting of what appears to be an alley off Douglas Street. (Source: Virgina Briestensky).


The family remembers these years at Callander Drive in a positive way. Karl was available for outings, and he painted regularly. One outstanding painting of this period, dated 1966, is a large oil, dominated by a strong orange colour, rather abstract, but clearly a study of a portion of St. George's Square and Douglas Street. The building to the left probably is the Bank of Nova Scotia where he had his office. In style, this was a major departure from his earlier, more cheerful, and representational work.


HIS OWN FIRM (1968-1972)

Karl's decision to create his own firm in 1968 coincided with a boom decade in Guelph. During the 1960s, the University of Guelph was created (1964), the annexation of 1966 effectively doubled the area of the city, and the population grew from 40,000 to 60,000. These early years of his own firm could be considered the most creative period of his design career with at least two outstanding examples of artistic imagination that were to establish a distinctive style of his own.


In 1970, Karl and Virginia purchased a large three-storey brick house, 84 Palmer Street a traditional four-square house that was built in the first decade of the 20th century. Karl took an interest in this house, wall-papering and painting, with re-decoration his area of responsibility. He designed and built furniture, including a rather large, awkward dining room table, and fixed up the third floor as rental space for students. His most ambitious project was an avant-garde wall, running from the front entry, with decorative oak pieces attached.13


Historic Guelph V44P1684 Palmer Street. (Source: Stelter, 2005).


At the office, Gertrude Sykes was brought in as secretary and office manager. Architect David McAuley, who worked at the office in the 1970s recalls, "Karl was the architect, the artist. In a way, she was the boss; she made things run."14 As Karl was always reluctant to discuss money with clients, she saw to it that billing was done, and bills collected. Those in the office remember her efficiency and also that she was something of a tyrant, making sure that they did not waste materials or pencils.


Karl's decision to go into business for himself was influenced by the departure of Lea Matthews for Yellowknife to work on federal government housing. It was also spurred on by the potential of a major commission. This was to be a church for the new St. John's parish which had been created in 1966 in the city's east end. Karl and his family regularly attended parish services held in St. John's School. The Italian-born priest, Father Francis Sienna, was determined to use Karl, despite the Bishop's preference for an architect with experience in building churches. Karl later acknowledged Father Sienna, "Whose fierce determination and unswerving support and loyalty to me as the architect, in spite of the Bishop's reservation to my appointment as the architect inspired me to greater efforts in the design of the church."15 It was in this project that Karl began using the geometric form of the triangle that was to characterize his work for the next 20 years.

 Historic Guelph V44P17Karl and Father Sienna at the ground-breaking of St. John's Church. 

(Source: J.J. Elmslie, A History of St. John's Church.)


The theological context of the church's design was Vatican II (1962-1965), which called for an end to the traditional medieval system of separating the sanctuary and the congregation. The sanctuary and the celebration of the mass were to be brought into a closer connection with the worshippers. So, Karl proposed a triangular floor plan, with all the aisles and seating focused on the altar. Father Sienna recalls working with Karl for three or four nights a week for several months in early 1967 in order to prepare a draft for the Diocesan building committee in Hamilton. Parts of their plan certainly went beyond conventional church architecture, and probably practicality. It included a floor that would slope towards the 90 degree angle of the triangle where the altar would be located. As well, as Sienna later wrote, "A small tunnel under part of the sloping floor would lead from the main entrance into the church and another tunnel would lead from the sacristy to the main aisle leading to the altar. This design graphically represented Christ coming from the tomb at his Resurrection."16 Despite Father Sienna's lengthy explanation in an interview, the purpose of these tunnels still remains unclear to me.


Not surprisingly, the Diocesan building committee felt that parts of the plan were too expensive and impractical. So, it was back to the drawing board for the two earnest planners, removing the sloping floor and tunnels, and placing the altar in the middle of the triangle's longest wall. This second draft plan was approved, which like the first included a stunning elevation. Here again, the triangular form was employed, with a dramatic slope culminating in a belfry, 65-feet-high, at the point nearest Victoria Road.


Karl later recalled his thinking about the 'feeling' of the interior. He consciously wished to replicate the contemplative, quiet atmosphere of the Church of Our Lady, which had been his parish as a child and youth, rather than the open, bright look of modern churches. To that end his design allowed for only very small stained-glass windows at the Stations of the Cross, a narrow stained-glass window ascending to the belfry, and a roof sky light above the altar. In what is every architect's dream, he was totally involved in every aspect of the design down to the smallest details, including the pews, the altar, and the baptistery. He also worked closely with the artists commissioned to do the Stations of the Cross and the stained glass, which are fine examples of contemporary design.


Historic Guelph V44P18St. John's Church from Victoria Road.


The construction of the church to the desired quality within a budget limit of $430,000 required a good deal of shrewd persuasion by Father Sienna. Several local Italian-Canadian contractors had complained to him that they never were able to get a church contract in Guelph; so he convinced them to do their religious and community duty by submitting bids within the limits imposed by the Bishop. As a result, the general contract went to Henry Battaglia Construction, the major subcontractors were Gorgi Masonry and John Prigione, Electrical and Mechanical. Sienna also traveled to Italy with building committee member, Pacifico Valeriote, in order to get better deals on some legendary Carrara marble, five cast bells and a Tamburini pipe organ. Sienna gleefully recalls having to deceive the Bishop about the real costs of the altar, for example, and Sienna covered it by secret contributions from church members.


Karl also had prepared designs for a rectory next door. In order to save money, Sienna acted as general contractor and the labour was supplied gratis by parishioners, many of whom were in the building trades. According to a later official assessment, the church property was worth a good deal more than what it had cost.17

 Historic Guelph V44P19The interior of St. John's Church, looking toward the altar. The dramatic peak is to the right. (Source: Stelter, 2005).


The resulting church with its prominent position on Victoria Road, was a radical departure from the appearance of other Guelph churches, with an architectural approach that could perhaps best be entitled, 'Modern Expressionism.'18 Karl himself believed that he had been inspired by the later Le Corbusier's expressionist work such as his famous church at Ronchamp (1951-1954) in France, and his convent of La Tourette (1957-1960) near Lyons in France, even though the forms, materials and appearance are all quite different. St. John's Church was, therefore, not an imitation of anyone else's prototype, but the product of Karl's personal vision.


It would appear that clerics have been more appreciative of radical designs than most of Karl's clients. In 1973, the minister of the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Kitchener came to his office and asked him to design him something similar to St. John's Church.19 The result was the same triangular floor plan and the same dramatic, triangular elevation. The bell tower is much simpler or perhaps never was finished, and the interior is not of the same quality as the superb interior of St. John's, but the newer church's presence in its suburban Kitchener neighborhood is equally commanding.


In 1969, Karl designed St. Patrick's School on Victoria Road North which represented a major step forward in the entire Guelph system (separate and public) which had generally built cheap and functional International Style schools. St. Patrick's could be considered 'late modern' in that it was a more complicated form of the modern, with the decorative use of structural elements such as vertical columns and windows.


Historic Guelph V44P20St. Patrick's School on Victoria Road.   (Source: Stelter, 2005).


This period was the beginning of a lengthy business relationship. Karl had two groups of developers who were in the forefront of commercial development in the rapidly expanding suburbs. The first of these was Tim Kennelly, a major house builder during the late 1960s. Karl worked with him in designing Grange and Victoria Plaza, about 1970, and entered into a partnership with him that also included lawyer Peter Gifford. The use of strong horizontal and diagonal lines would become a feature of Karl's commercial designs. This was one of two plazas he designed that year and the first of many more in years to come. Architectural critic Witold Rybczynski points to the North American shopping mall as the, "Most influential architectural prototype of our time," in that it shaped the course of modern architecture in the way that the dome, the columned portico and the temple front did in previous periods of history.20 Karl certainly learned to be at home with the shopping plaza and became the city's leading designer of this form of commercial architecture.


Historic Guelph 57 Pleasant Road V44P2157 Pleasant Road. (Source: Stelter, 2005).


Karl also designed a house for Kennelly. and his large family at 170 Emma Street, where he used a horizontal, projecting fascia to give a Frank Lloyd Wright look to a fairly conventional house. A more daring, purely modern design was used in a Kennelly built house at 57 Pleasant Road. This was a two-storey, brick and wood, flat-roofed house set into a sharply sloping, heavily treed lot which followed Wright's dictum: "Not on the hill, but of the hill." It was obviously inspired by Wright's famous house, Falling Water, with its cantilevered balconies and strong horizontal lines.


By all accounts, Kennelly was a large, jovial type who was willing to take chances in the world of building and business. For a new home for himself and his family, he had Karl design what was arguably the most innovative and daring house ever built in this region. This project is another illustration of the principle that an architect seldom really gets a chance to be creative: it requires a client who is willing to accept and pay for something that is out of the ordinary. I have not yet been able to find any designs Karl did for this house, but for the exterior I have relied on photographs and for the interior on the recollections of Ray Ferraro, who was then Kennelly's sales manager, and Elio Stradiotto, who visited the house several times.


Historic Guelph The Kennelly House V44P21The Kennelly House at Guelph Lake. (Source: GRCA).


The basic design of this house was similar to the triangular shape of St. John's Church which was being completed as this project was begun. It was really a three-sided house, with a triangular ground plan and a triangular elevation on showing wall facing each of the two main walls. The point of the triangle culminated in a peak of about 45 feet; it wasn't a sharp point, as at the church, but was about eight feet wide, with windows running from the ground to the top. The wall facing the lake had most of the house's windows. Most of these were recessed, one was hooded, and one was of a conventional type. They were irregularly placed, of various sizes, reminiscent of Le Corbusier's Ronchamp, while the hooded window and the three hooded windows on the other side were somewhat similar to those at the Convent at La Tourette. A built-in garage and the main entryway were at the back, or base of the triangle, as was a retaining wall.


Historic Guelph Kennelly House V44P22The Kennelly House showing wall facing Guelph Lake. (Source: GRCA).


Shingles covered all parts of the house for there was no distinction between wall and roof. The shingles unified the entire house as a piece of sculpture, as a work of art. Local residents even today can not find the words to describe the house's appearance. Perhaps Ray Ferraro sums it up most effectively. To him, the finished house, "Looked like a grand piano with the lid up."


The interior did not quite match the character of the exterior. Perhaps Kennelly felt that family realities required some departures from the original design. As you entered, you were faced with three levels of rooms, organized like mezzanines, with everything open to the ceiling at the roof level. The living space was on the ground level, the bedrooms on the second, and the third was a loft for some of the children. Certain levels were partially closed in, distracting from the possible visual impact.


Historic Guelph Kennelly House as Art V44P22The Kennelly House as a work of art. (Source: BJC Architects).


Kennelly had built a few fairly daring buildings but the difficulties with this house went beyond anything that he and Karl had ever experienced. As an example, a major disaster was narrowly averted as the house neared completion - at the stage when the dry walling was about to be applied. A storm nearly toppled the house, which acted as a kind of sail driven by the wind. One wall was pushed about eight inches into the rest of the house. The solution was a system of steel columns and trusses (which can be seen through the windows of the peak), which were anchored into a large concrete block poured underneath the house.


Construction difficulties proved to be the least of their problems. The house was sited to take advantage of the views of the valley of the Speed River which ran about a third of a mile away to the south. Early plans for a dam of the Speed by the Grand River Conservation Authority had focused on an area near the Jesuit Novitiate, far from this site. Several houses had already been built along today's Kaine Hill Drive, including Kennelly's, when about 1970, the GRCA changed its plans and chose to flood the area near Kaine Hill. They insisted on the demolition of several houses and one was moved to another location. They paid Kennelly $125,000, a relatively good price for that time, and gave him the right to live in it rent free for the year before demolition.

 Historic Guelph V44P23The Kennelly House showing the supporting steel trusses. (Source: BJC Architects).


One of the residents who had built a house on Kaine Hill Drive was Enzo Gazzola. He remembers the Kennelly house being built across the road from his house and took me up the former driveway to the spot where it had stood, at least 300 feet from the present Guelph Lake, on a substantial rise, nowhere near the actual dam site itself. The house obviously did not have to be demolished, but the actual story is not yet known. Perhaps it resides in the records of the GRCA.


An epilogue to the story of this dramatic house continues in the same vein. Kennelly apparently had over-extended himself in several of his ambitious construction projects. In 1972, on July 12th (an ironic date for an Irish Catholic), Kennelly and his family secretly returned to Ireland, leaving his partners and creditors holding the proverbial bag.


The other major business association begun during this period was one that would continue throughout Karl's career. The Wolfond family, headed by Joe Wolfond, was the major landowner in Downtown Guelph. Karl's office was in the Bank of Nova Scotia building owned by the Wolfond family; eventually, as his business increased, his firm moved up to the third floor, from which he and his staff had an unparalleled view of the square. The Wolfond sons were more interested in suburban development; however, than in the Downtown. Art, a lawyer, and Mel, trained as an architect, formed a land development company, Armel, based on their names. They purchased large amounts of land to the west of the city at a time when no one else thought that suburban expansion would take place in that direction. In 1970, shortly after the city dropped its prohibition of suburban shopping plazas, Armel began to build the first and largest of these commercial centres at that period of Guelph's development, Willow West Mall. Karl designed this and subsequent additions and managed to give it a small degree of distinctiveness through the use of sharp angles on the facades.

 Historic Guelph Bank of Nova Scotia V44P24The Bank of Nova Scotia building designed by Mel Wolfond. (Source: Stelter, 2005).


A Downtown Armel project that Karl designed about the same time was more innovative but ultimately less successful commercially. 'The Courtyard' was an attempt to bring a Mediterranean type of shopping and restaurant complex to Guelph at a site that was meant to open up pedestrian movement between Macdonell and Carden Streets. Karl designed it based partly on European squares, but more specifically on the Lothian Mews in Toronto which the Wolfond family liked. Two-storeys of shops surrounded a central, brick-paved courtyard. A colour scheme of red and black special brick, and wrought iron stairs and balconies were used to create an atmosphere conducive to relaxed eating and shopping. Armel officials hoped that high-quality, boutique shops would help to invigorate what had become a rather dingy part of the city.21 But the Courtyard never became commercially successful, and security was a problem. Eventually it was closed off and the traditional street wall re-established.



The growth rate of Guelph in the 1970s slowed from that of the previous decade, but it was still a very substantial 18.5 percent. The population by 1981 was 71,207 with suburban expansion most evident to the west and south. The growth of the architectural firm reflected the changes in Guelph itself. Early in the decade it was a firm of three. By mid-decade the office was moved to the top floor (the third) of the Bank of Nova Scotia building. By the late decade, the number of architects and staff had grown to fifteen. The projects were now larger and included more shopping plazas, apartment blocks, recreational centres, and office blocks. There were no great artistic challenges or houses that we know of, but later in the decade several heritage projects pointed to a new architectural challenge.


This was not a one-man firm, of course. In size, it fitted somewhere between that of the individual practitioner and the architectural corporations which mirrored the size and complexity of their corporate clients. The staff during this period included two University of Waterloo graduates in architecture, Rob Young, who did some of the designs, and John Clinkett, who concentrated on the final phases of a project, the site supervision. Ryerson graduate in architectural drafting, Larry Griffiths, was a regular. Several students and part timers often came in at night from other firms. Karl did most of the conceptual designs and determined the over-all look and character of a project. Then others in the office would do the time-consuming but less creative task of producing the working drawings. Paul Critchley, later a partner, began as an intern in the office in 1977. He says that Karl was the guiding light who set the tone of the office. He also acted as a mentor to the younger staff, teaching them, among other things, that it was important to be fair to their clients.22

 Historic Guelph V44P26Karl and some of his associates, at a celebration in the office on October 14, 1977. Behind Karl, from the left, Gord Lipke, production consultant; Larry Griffiths; Lyn Nyman, student; Roger Putock, student; Laurel Pryde, receptionist; Paul Critchley. (Source: BJC Architects).


Although Karl was in charge, each of the architects often were responsible for particular jobs and they met regularly over lunch, often at the Priory Club, to discuss problems and possible solutions. When I try now to find out which member of the group actually designed a particular building, I usually discover that if the building does not have that recognizable Briestensky look, it probably was not done by Karl but by one of the other architects in the office.


The firm developed a strong reputation in the local business community. Clinkett explains: "We got stuff done. Ray Ferraro would come in and we'd have something done for him the next morning." Karl, during this period, had the appearance of a wild artist, with big, frizzy hair. Clinkett attributes that to his growing self-confidence professionally. "He was coming into his realm. He could do what he wanted."23


  Historic Guelph Part of Silvercreek Mall V44P27Portrait of the Silvercreek Mall. (Source: Stelter, 2005).


Karl's personal life was another matter. While he enjoyed tennis at the Church of Our Lady Club and was an avid skier, he increasingly drank heavily, and family life became turbulent. In 1975 he and Virginia separated and in 1976 they were divorced. Karl moved into an apartment and the rest of the family stayed on at Palmer Street for about another three years before dispersing.


Historic Guelph Portion of Westwood Court Mall V44P27

Portion of the Westland Court Mall, Willow Road West. (Source: Stelter, 2005).



In describing Karl's priorities, Janet Chandlel, a long-time friend, concluded that, "Karl was very happily married to Mother Architecture for many, many years. Anybody after Mother Architecture was definitely a mistress." According to Janet, Karl had, "An array of friends", a wonderful sense of humor, and loved being with people who liked to laugh. But he was not comfortable with big social occasions and small talk. He was happiest at his office or at his home where he could be in control of situations.24

  Historic Guelph Campus Estates Plaza V44P27Campus Estates Plaza, with the Duke of Grafton Pub (now Shakespeare Arms), left. (Source: Stelter, 2005).


The quantity of work produced during this period was immense by Guelph standards. In 1976 alone Karl designed four new shopping plazas. Tivo were in the west end; the Silvercreek Mall, valued at $800,000, and Westwood Court Shopping Mall, valued at $700,000. The latter was done for Armel and featured Karl's love of wood to make a dramatic statement. That same year he also designed the Campus Estates in the south end, valued at $1.2 million, added the Duke of Grafton Pub at that mall. He also did the Root Plaza at the corner of Speedvale and Woolwich, converting a former Dominion Store, and designed a large mall in Waterloo at this time.25


 Historic Guelph Co-Operatops Head Office V44P28

The Cooperators Head Office. (Source: Stelter, 1995).


Another aspect of commercial design was the office block. The largest was an addition for 'The Cooperators,' whose head office for general insurance is in Guelph. In 1974, Rob Young designed the large western addition (it was built 1976-1978) to match the original tower already there. While the exterior looked the same, the interior was totally different. John Clinkett was in charge of the detailed development of the interior. With a staff of six, he spent one-and-a-half years concentrating on detailed interior design, even choosing carpets and furniture. At the same time Karl and the firm did conceptual designs for the company's branch offices in Kitchener, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Red Deer, and others. Each site and situation were different, so after visiting each place, Karl provided general guidelines for design-builders.26

 Historic Guelph Rhonda Road Townhouses V44P28

Rhonda Road townhouses. (Source: Stelter, 2005).


Karl does not seem to have designed any individual houses during this period, concentrating instead on multiple residential plans. Among the earliest were the Rhonda Road Townhouses, 158 units, valued at $3 million and built-in stages between 1973 and 1976. Karl did the initial design and Griffiths carried on in later stages. Among the firm's first apartment blocks were the Silvercreek Parkway Apartments. Clinkett and Griffiths designed the middle building as very conventional, functional, and relatively inexpensive housing, indistinguishable from many other apartment blocks in the city. The owner then had draftsmen copy that design for the other two buildings.


Historic Guelph Victoria Road Rec. Center V44P29

The Victoria Road Recreational Centre. (Source: Stelter, 2005).


Several recreational building projects were completed during this period. The most important was the Victoria Road Recreation Centre, designed and built between 1971 and 1974. It was a challenging site, a sharp slope. Here and on all of his major projects, he worked closely with structural engineer Jim Fisher, of the Walter Fedy firm in Kitchener. The major work was in the interior, with emphasis on the hockey rink and the swimming pool. As on other buildings, Karl exposed the structural and mechanical elements. He and David McAuley spent a lot of time picking colours for the interior. Karl liked vibrant colours, especially reds, purples, and black. The building was considered a real success and the firm received a commission for a similar but smaller version in Fergus.


Historic Guelph Victor Davis Pool V44P29

Victor Davis Swimming Pool. (Source: Stelter, 2005).


A project connected to Karl's personal activities was the major addition to the Chicopee Ski Club designed in 1977. Here his creativity seems to have been given greater freedom for the sharp triangular shapes and the use of diagonally set wooden walls immediately mark this as a Briestensky design. Karl and the entire staff would regularly go up north to Blue Mountain at Collingwood on Thursdays to ski, where they would be joined by some of the ski instructors from Chicopee.


Historic Guelph Chicopee Ski Club V44P29

Chicopee Ski Club. (Source: Stelter, 2005).


A personal touch is also evident in the Stone Road Fire Sub-Station designed and built in 1976. The cantilevered façade and the massing are reminiscent of the balconies and other aspects of Wright's Falling Water. The plans were based on that of the Fergus Fire Station which the firm had done previously. Clinkett remembers that four of them in the office spent a full weekend adapting the Fergus plans for the Stone Road site.

 Historic Guelph Stone Road Fire Sub-Station V44P29

Stone Road Fire Sub-station. (Source: Stelter, 2005).


Less successful as part of the Downtown streetscape was the Royal Trust Building on St. George's Square in 1974. This replaced one of the real gems from the 19th century, the limestone Tovell Building. The new building has much of Karl's basic vocabulary: large glass walls, sonotube columns, and angular lines. David McAuley remembers, "Huge arguments," about the use of reclaimed stone in the facade. The result was the unfortunate use of broken stone from the original building, set into a concrete parapet.

 Historic Guelph Former Royal Trust Building V44P30The former Royal Trust building now a Post Office outlet. (Source: Stelter, 2005).


Another unfortunate replacement of a fine 19th century building was the new Montreal Trust Building at the corner of Wyndham and Macdonell Streets. The Macdonell Block had burned in 1970 - it had matched the other half of the existing block, 1 Wyndham Street. The result was a strange compromise between the rules of the city for Wyndham Street façades and the wishes of the trust company which wanted only a one-storey building. Karl designed a modern, one-storey building with a false front which did not do much for either the traditional street wall or for modern architecture. Clinkett recalls the situation as one in which there, "Were too many other influences," for any design to be successful.

 Historic Guelph FormerMontreal Trust Building V44P30The former Montreal Trust Building. (Source: Stelter, 2005).



As an architectural student in the 1950s, Karl's attitude to what was good architecture was shaped by the prevailing modernism at the architectural school. Virginia remembers him saying that Guelph did not have a single good piece of architecture. By the 1970s, attitudes were changing. A long, but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to save the Canada Trust Building was being fought. A heritage preservation movement was organized and led by Gordon Couling who taught art at the University of Guelph. One result was the formation of a Local Architectural Advisory Committee (LACAC). Karl had been to Europe several times and had learned to appreciate the value of Guelph's heritage. He was to become a strong supporter of restoration or renovation rather than demolition.

 Historic Guelph V44P31The restored pea-meal factory on Farquhar Street. (Source: Stelter, 2005).


His first restoration project was that of a dilapidated stone warehouse on Farquhar Street owned by Sev Peloso. Karl approached him in 1976 about buying it and ended up in partnership with him and with Guido Gatto, a contractor. At a cost of about $400,000, they restored the building, retaining the original timber structure inside, and creating a number of very attractive apartments.

 Historic Guelph The Wellington After The Fire of 1975 V44P32The Wellington after the fire of 1975. (Source: Stelter, 1975).


The second restoration project proved to be a major turning point in maintaining the viability of the downtown. The Wellington Hotel had burned in 1971, leaving only the stone walls which seemed destined for demolition. It was a major loss. The Wellington had been one of the landmarks of Guelph from its construction in 1877. The Parisian-style, triangular building had been designed by the most talented architect in 19th century Guelph, Victor Stewart. Local businessmen called for the removal of what had become an eyesore and the purchasers, developers Chester Carere and Douglas Bridge certainly considered that option. But city planners Ken Perry and Norman Harrison, with LACAC's support, kept the owners thinking about restoration. A crucial factor in the eventual decision was that Carere and Bridge had spent their entire business lives Downtown. As Doug Bridge told me, suburban malls are four times as profitable and twice as easy to build as Downtown properties. But they went ahead and took a chance because they cared for the city when more conventional investors probably would not have done so.27 The project became financially feasible when federal officials agreed in 1978 to lease space for $185,000 a year, plus paying $116,000 for interior fixtures.28


Historic Guelph The Wellington Being Restored V44P32

The Wellington being restored, July 1979. (Source: Stelter, 1979).


The restoration required some imaginative engineering and architectural solutions. Herb Clough was brought in with experience in restoring war damaged buildings in London, England. He worked with Karl who recalled inventing the construction methods as they went along. All the work had to be done over the walls. They built a steel interior structure from the top dowry then built the interior from the ground up. The sophisticated original look of the roof and dormers was duplicated. While the cost overruns proved considerable, the result for the owners and the community at large was the re-emergence of one of the most sophisticated structures ever built in Guelph.

 Historic Guelph Restore Wellington V44P32Restored Wellington, again the elegant anchor of the northern portion of Downtown Guelph.


Bridge and Carere also purchased the Masonic Hall next door (also designed originally by Stewart). Here, Karl designed offices for the owners and was given the kind of artistic freedom that architects like his idol Frank Lloyd Wright sometimes enjoyed. He created a series of wooden decorative designs on the walls, making these office spaces among the most impressive in the city.

 Historic Guelph Part of The Boardroom of Carere & Bridge V44P32Part of the Boardroom of Carere and Bridge. (Source: Stelter, 2005).


A third restoration project was the historic home he purchased for $95,000 at 16 Arthur Street in 1978. Karl told the Mercury, "He'd had his eye on this house since he was a young boy."29 This impressive Georgian stone mansion had been built and named Sunnyside in 1854 by stone-mason William Kennedy for his daughter.30 Karl's daughter Maria remembers going on a Sunday afternoon house hunting drive with Karl when she spotted the, "For Sale," sign on Sunnyside. They explored the unkempt yard and run-down house, and Karl tried to look at the interior through the boarded-up windows.31 Since its days as one of the most elegant houses in the city, and even though it had fallen on hard times, Karl had purchased it within weeks. The house had already been divided up and Karl remodeled it into four apartments, including one for himself. He combined the original with modern facilities in a sensitive fashion. The original stone columns of the front porch were badly eroded, so he had duplicates made by a Toronto sculptor and the originals became part of the interior decoration.

 Historic Guelph V44P33Left Image: Installation of Sunnyside's replica porch, Spring 1980. (Source: Stelter, 1980).
Right Image: Sunnyside interior redecoration included the original porch columns. (Source: Stelter, 2005).




During the 1980s, much of the work that Karl did was for a German investors group that was represented locally by Ray Ferraro. Ferraro recalls:


"I introduced a group of German investors to Guelph and area. The situation was very simple. I'd bring investors into Guelph and introduce them to Karl. They were pleased with his expertise. He showed them some of the work we had done previously in the area. They loved the area, and they invested the money."32


The main figure of this group was Toronto lawyer/developer Wolf von Teichman. German investors sent him money, be syndicated in, and invested in properties of his choice. Ferraro usually acted as project manager and general contractor but sometimes he also was a partner.

 Historic Guelph V44P34Ray Ferraro. (Source: Stelter, 2005).


Ferraro estimates that the German investors group did over 20 projects in which Karl was involved as designer. These included three large renovation projects in the Downtown core, two large apartment complexes, and a major office building on St. George's Square. Karl also did a number of smaller renovation projects such as medical facilities. An example was the upgrading of an old bingo hall, 40 Baker Street. According to one of the doctors, Karl felt that the size of the waiting room they wanted was too large; perhaps he felt that they kept their patients waiting too long, as he jokingly asked the doctors for the popcorn concession for the room.33


Some of the major renovation projects began with the idea of clearing the sites and putting up a new building or series of buildings. The first example of this was a large property assembled in 1984 by Ferraro as project manager at the corner of Norfolk and Paisley Streets, previously known as the Red Barn site and now called the Royal Plaza. The property included an Esso station and two stone buildings south of Commercial Street. Negotiations with the city led to the city's offer of Commercial Street as a gift. The idea was to clear the entire site of existing buildings which also included the old Royal Dairy and the Red Barn fast food outlet. We have not been able to find any preliminary drawings of the proposal in Karl's files, but Ferraro says that this would have been, "A gorgeous development for the Downtown," and included plans for shops, offices, and apartments.

 Historic Guelph V44P35

The configuration of the old arena is still evident as the basis of the Royal plaza. (Source: Stelter, 2005).


Von Teichman was reluctant to accept the street from the city free of charge and offered $40,000. But some aldermen had second thoughts about the whole deal and the city ended up demanding $150,000 instead. Ferraro recalls standing on the site later with von Teichman and Karl who was furious about the city's attitude. Karl argued: "If they won't let us do anything else, let's renovate what's here." In about 20 minutes, Karl had drawn up a simple sketch of a shopping plaza. What could be renovated was the Royal Dairy, which had been built around an old arena. The project became the Royal Plaza, built for a relatively short life span of 15 to 20 years. The property on the other side of Commercial Street was sold to fohn Lammer who renovated the old textile plant into apartments and built his office on the site of the gas station.

 Historic Guelph The Renovated King Edward Hotel V44P35The renovated King Edward Hotel. (Source: Stelter, 2005).


The same players were involved, but with Ferraro as a partner, in the conversion of the old King Edward Hotel into offices in 1988 and 1989 at a cost of $2.5 million. The original plan was to buy the whole block on Wyndham Street, including the Treanon Restaurant (Now Van Gogh's Ear), and demolish and build a new structure. As the restaurant property was not available, the group decided to renovate the old hotel instead. What was saved was one of the significant buildings from the mid 19th century, built as a three-storey brick structure by William Day in 1860. About 1900 a fourth floor was added when it was owned and operated by James Johnson, the father of world renowned tenor, Edward Johnson, who lived in the hotel as a child. 34 The prominent corner of the building at Wyndham and Carden was given an Edwardian look early in the 20th century by architect W. Frye Colwill, with well placed classical columns. The modern renovation involved gutting the interior completely, which was in terrible shape, and chemically cleaning the exterior brick, which revealed the decorative use of a lighter coloured brick around the windows. The renovation project was designed to increase the value of the property which was then successfully sold.


Less successful financially was another venture by the same group when they renovated the Royal Hotel at 106 Carden Street in 1989 at a cost of $4.5 million.35 This site has been a hotel building, with many additions, dating back to the 1850s.36 Karl did most of the detailed planning himself. This was one of his favorite places in town, for it had the Priory Club, where architects and other professionals in the city regularly gathered. Previous owners Lorne and Eva Fischer had decorated the bar with large photographs of early Guelph. The building was completely refurbished, inside and out and everyone agreed that the renovations had been very successful. But the project proved to be a financial disaster for the investors because a noisy nightclub moved in next door. destroying the ambience of the hotel and restaurant.37

 Historic Guelph V44P36Priory Club at the Royal Hotel. (Source: 1960 Postcard, Guelph Public Library).


This same group of players constructed some of the finest apartment blocks in the city during this period. These were large, middle-class apartments, not just for the, "Newly weds and nearly deads," as one scholar has put it, near amenities like Riverside and Royal City Parks.38 In 1978, Ray Ferraro, acting for the group, purchased the Briestensky greenhouse property and a mink farm, thereby assembling all the land between Woolwich Street and Riverside Park. Over the next decade, Karl designed the Marilyn Drive Apartments, three superb apartment blocks which had a construction cost of $12 million. The east side of the property near the park was low lying land and so a system was devised of pumping sewage from there up to Woolwich Street during off hours.


Historic Guelph Marilyn Drive V44P37

Left Image: 20 Marilyn Drive. (Source: BJC Architects).

Right Image: 22 Marilyn Drive. (Source: Stelter, 2005).


Each of the three apartment buildings were distinctive. The first, 20 Marilyn Drive, was begun in 1979 and had the characteristic Briestensky look of private balconies and many sharp angles in the interior. Ferraro remembers Karl not liking square rooms; his angular designs were more expensive to build but proved to be popular with renters. The second, 22 Marilyn Drive, in 1983 and 1984, featured cement pillars, some as much as 80 to 90 feet high on the exterior, and Ferraro told Karl: "You are going to sonotube us to death." In the design of the third, 24 Marilyn Drive, built in 1987 and 1988 as condos, the owner von Teichman intervened for the first time. Karl was persuaded to design a building without balconies which led to a building with largely glass walls. The interior generally was very bright.


Historic Guelph V44P37

Left Image: 24 Marilyn Drive. (Source: Stelter, 2005).

Right Image: The Phoenix Mill and 358 Waterloo Avenue from the south. (Source: Stelter, 2005).


Much the same investment group was involved in the Waterloo Avenue Apartments built in the 1980s. Karl's first plans for the property in 1979 had included the demolition of the Sterling Rubber Factory, which included at its core the old stone Phoenix Mill built in 1874. After discussions with Norman Harrison and the city's planning staff, Karl promptly drew up plans which retained the mill between the two proposed towers, Nos. 358 and 364 (built first). The Mill itself was sold to contractors Mike Rao and Steno Carniello, who renovated it as condominium apartments.39


Perhaps the most visible and controversial building that Karl ever designed was the National Trust Building (currently without a name) on St. George's Square, constructed between 1986 and 1988. In this case, von Teichman was the sole owner, with Ferraro as project manager, in what was envisaged as another renovation project. The building at that time was known as the Bond Building, itself a renovation by architect William Mahoney of a 19th century building that burned in 1946. The building burned again in a dramatic fire in 1986, very shortly after von Teichman had put in his offer. After negotiations with the insurance company, the decision was made to clear the site, rather than use the remaining stone walls.

 Historic Guelph V44P38The Bond Building shortly after the 1986 fire. (Source: Stelter, 1986).


Only the final drawings for the building have been saved, it would appear but we do know that Karl prepared a series of conceptual sketches of a new building which had at least three towers. The owner was unhappy with this design but did not want to confront Karl directly. So, he waited in his car downstairs while Ray Ferraro had to go up to Karl's office to tell Karl that a building with three towers was far too elaborate and expensive. It was only the second time that he had seen Karl so angry. After a few days Karl cooled down and produced a concept close to what was eventually built. A further hurdle was City Council which apparently questioned some of the details. Karl was understandably upset that Council would try to determine what was good or bad design. At this point, von Teichman defended his architect and threatened to merely build, "A box to replace the one that burned down."40

 Historic Guelph Under Construction V44P39A new shape under construction, 1987. (Source: Stelter, 1987).


Karl often explained his plans for this building, perhaps because it generated so much interest. He wanted something more interesting than the Bond Building, something that would help to re-establish the city's focus on St. George's Square. In some respects, he was trying to compensate for several decades of corporate vandalism that had destroyed one of the finest squares in the country. His own offices were in a mediocre modernist building, the Bank of Nova Scotia Building, that had replaced the old Customs House/Post Office, the primary symbol of an older, more sophisticated Guelph.

 Historic Guelph V44P39The National Trust Building as the star of the square in 1989. (Source: Stelter, 1989).


Karl understood that the existing buildings on the square, including the old Bond Building, had simply been too low for the size of the square. His new designs incorporated some of the angular features and sloped roofs of his earlier works, but they also evoked the spirit of Victorian Guelph which he had come to appreciate. The new four-storey building has reinforced concrete cladding, large bronze-coloured windows, and aluminum spandrel panels between the storeys. What makes it distinct from just another nice, new office building is the roof line, which is really very complex, and is worth a prolonged viewing. A central tower was to have a huge clock (never put in) and the corner of the building on Wyndham Street had a distinctive turret. The central tower was located to terminate the view from Douglas Street, in much the same way that Henry Langley had once located the tower of St. George's Church to terminate the view looking down Douglas Street the other way.

 Historic Guelph V44P40The National Trust Building, now simply 42 Wyndham Street, North. View from lower Wyndham Street. (Source: Stelter, 2005).


The building has certainly been controversial. His former wife did not like it, thinking it looked cold and forbidding. The Mercury quoted residents who said it looked like a grain elevator or parking garage, and some thought it was an attempt to look like a cathedral. Karl admitted that the 'steeples' were meant to blend with the towers of the Church of Our Lady. "I tried for a building that was a blend of old and new, that was imposing on the square, and that's been achieved."41 This building could be considered one of Karl's most successful buildings. Through his post-modern design he created a prominent monument which clearly expresses modern Guelph's respect for its past without merely imitating or recreating that past.



Historic Guelph Karl & Jack Campbell V44P41Karl and Jack Campbell, 1980. (Source: Janet Chandler).


The other work that Karl and the firm did in the 1980s established him not only as the major architect in Guelph but as a popular architect in neighbouring cities as well. The firm, now known as Briestensky Architects, Ltd., designed a wide variety of commercial and industrial buildings, some distinctive apartment blocks and condominiums, a spectacular school; and Karl even did a few imaginative houses. An old friend, Jack Campbell joined him for a time, as did Shane O'Neill, a graduate of the University of Dublin. Barry Johnson, a University of Waterloo graduate, joined the firm in 1986. Commercial and industrial design continued along the same lines as earlier, but the amount was staggering for a small firm. Karl designed the Bullfrog Mall in 1982 for developer Phil Gosling, with landscape architect Bill Coates doing the site plan. The Silvercreek Shops and the Hanlon Park Mall on Silvercreek Parkway in 1986 to 1988 accounted for more than $10 million in construction. The firm also designed several industrial malls. Two for developers Carere and Bridge included 650 Woodlawn Road, built in stages between 1976 and 1990, at a cost of about $5 million. This accommodated sophisticated tenants such as Rowan Williams Davies & Irwin, the wind tunnel specialists. Another was 291 Woodlawn Road, built between 1978 and 1985 at a cost of about $2 million. Two other industrial malls are more typically Briestensky in appearance: 367 Woodlawn Road, for Earl Reilly of Ryberg Holdings, built from 1986 to 1988; and the three phases of the Quinlan Industrial Mall on Laird Road, built from 1987 to 1991. Karl designed and supervised a major renovation and expansion of the College Motor Inn (now the Ramada) between 1987 and 1989 for the Pagani family at a cost of about $6 million. The challenge, Karl felt, was to meld the existing two freestanding units originally designed by Richard Pagani in a modernist style with a new central portion in his more free-flowing, angular style.

 Historic Guelph Portion of Bullfrog Mall V44P41A portion of the Bullfrog Mall. (Source: Stelter, 2005).


Historic Guelph Part of 367 Woodlawn Road V44P42

The front portion of 367 Woodlawn Road. (Source: Stelter, 2005).


Some of the work outside of Guelph indicated the firm's growing reputation for reasonably priced, functional design. Some examples are the Fairview Plaza in Burlington in 1981, a new supermarket in Erin (1986-1987), the Queensland Centre in Stratford (1988-1990), and Sobey's Food Villages in Grimsby and Woodstock (1989-1990). Then again, some of the work outside of Guelph was the product of old acquaintances. Karl designed two phases of the University Shops in Waterloo for Armel in 1981 and 1985 to 1987, in the familiar Briestensky angular style, with a lot of diagonal wood.

 Historic Guelph College Motor Inn V44P42The conceptual drawing of the College Motor Inn renovations and expansion. (Source: BJC Architects).


Of several industrial projects, three stand out for their distinctive designs in a category of building not usually known for aesthetic concerns. One is the Baruotti Woodworking office and plant on Watson Road, built in three phases between 1983 and 1989 at a cost of about $4 million. His association with this firm went back to the building of St. John's Church in the late 1960s. Here is the trademark Briestensky touch: a sharp, triangular projection for the showroom and the ubiquitous sonotube concrete pillars. Another is the Blow Press Factory Office built in the Hanlon Industrial Park in 1986. The entrance and offices are placed in a sculpted form reminiscent of some giant industrial object.

 Historic Guelph V44P42

Barzotti Woodworking Showroom. (Source: BJC Architects).


By the late 1980s, Karl was experimenting with a new phase of his approach to design, with the circle replacing the triangle as the dominating form. Johnson recalls Karl working on turning circles into spaces: he would, "Play with it for hours and hours." Karl was very impressed with the work of Douglas Cardinal and especially with Cardinal's designs for the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa which was based on natural curving lines. Karl's version of the new approach was the design for Com Dev, a space exploration company's headquarters built on Sheldon Drive in Cambridge in 1989. Circles and a long crescent were basic to this sophisticated design which also features a curved glass front wall.

 Historic Guelph Bowl Press Factory/Office V44P43Blow Press factory/office. (Source: Stelter, 2005).


The same basic ideas were used for the new building for L'Ecole St. René Goupil, a French language school built on Scottsdale Drive in 1989 and 1990. Karl had been encouraged by school officials to design something out of the ordinary, so he used the opportunity to create a building with no straight lines. Major portions of the design were based on circles, and classrooms were arranged in a crescent around a central, circular space. The complexity of the design required computers which the firm did not yet have, so staff took the data to the surveying and planning firm, Black Shoemaker, and used their computers at night. 

 Historic Guelph L'Ecole St, René Goupil Floor Plan V44P43L'Ecole St. René Goupil floor plan. (Source: BJC Architects).


Multiple residential buildings continued to be a staple of the firm's design production in the 1980s. In 1988 and 1989 alone, for example, the firm did an incredible total of about $73 million in construction costs, usually outside of Guelph. These included ten buildings in Waterloo, 14 in Kitchener, three in Stratford, the Briarwood complex in Kitchener Johnson), plus townhouse complexes in Kitchener and Aberfoyle. As well, in Guelph, they designed the Lutheridge Seniors' Residence (Johnson), Mews on the Park and the Marilyn Drive Townhouses.

 Historic Guelph L'Ecole St. René Goupil V44P44L'Ecole St. René Goupil from Scottsdale Drive. (Source: BJC Architects).


In the midst of these large-scale projects, Karl also did some smaller jobs for personal reasons. A good example was the Spruce Villa Condominiums built in Waterloo in 1985 and 1986 at less than $2 million. These were for his old friend, Father Francis Sienna, who had left the priesthood on order to get married and was now investing in property. Although Sienna wanted balconies, Karl strongly advised against them telling him that that he had done about twelve condo buildings with balconies and people were spending a lot of money closing them in. So, Karl's design included sharp, triangular, glassed in corners which gave residents the feel of balconies. A corner tower with a Norman spire gave the whole project a distinctive look.42

 Historic Guelph Portion of The Spruce Villas V44P44A portion of the Spruce Villas. (Source: Stelter, 2005).


A local project, Christopher Court for Gorgi Construction, with whom he had long been associated, was designed in 1987 and 1988, costing about $4 million. This gave him the opportunity to use his favorite design touches - triangular corner balconies (despite what he had told Sienna) and his beloved sonotube concrete pillars. A conceptual drawing shows his relatively elaborate roof design which was never completed because of the cost.

 Historic Guelph V44P45Conceptual drawing of Christopher Court. (Source: BJC Architects).


Karl also found the time to do a few private house designs, "More for fun and freedom," than for fees, according to Johnson. The house designs show the progression of his basic approach. In 1983 he designed a house for Professor N. and Dr. Kaushik on Danwood Place with a complex, angular roof line on an otherwise conventional house. As part of a major renovation of a large house for Fred Benson in Campbellville in 1986, he added two striking, Norman-style towers similar to that for his friend Sienna's condo complex in Kitchener. Sometimes a proposed renovation turned into a demolition and a new house. That was the case with Fred Metcalfe who had purchased the old ranch-style Wolfond house on Stuart Street and expected Karl to design changes to it. When these turned out to be too extensive, Karl suggested demolition. The result was an almost 7,000 square-foot house costing $1 million in 1987 and 1988, a very private house that seemed to grow out of the ground, with a very low roof line.43 It, in turn, has been demolished recently for the construction of a palatial house by John Rennie. For Joe Wolfond, Jr., Karl drew up conceptual designs for a house in the Rolling Hills subdivision south of the city in 1988 but did not have the time to do the working drawings which were done by Verdone Construction. Karl was very disappointed in the final result probably because most of the spectacular A-frame façade was bricked ivy, leaving only small windows, while the original design obviously assumed a large amount of glass.44

 Historic Guelph The Metcalf House V44P45The Metcalfe House on Stuart Street. (Source: BJC Architects).


A full-scale circular design for a house for Hans Merker on Gilmour Road south of the city in 1989 allowed Karl more artistic freedom. Merker was an associate of Ray Ferraro in several of his renovation and apartment building projects. He had purchased a set of general plans for a California style house with three rectangular units set into a U-shaped configuration. Karl convinced him that the site was better suited to a circular design around a central courtyard and plans to that effect were drawn up. Merker had difficulty getting any local contractor to build such an unconventional house and was told that the plans were impossible to work with. He finally persuaded a reluctant Norm Patterson, who specialized in barn building and heavy demolition, to take on the task of building a structure with no straight lines and a very complex series of roofs.45 The result was a well-built house with a distinctive character, the product of a successful collaboration between an imaginative designer, an owner willing to go beyond the ordinary, and a builder willing to work outside of conventional building methods.

 Historic Guelph Floor Plan for The Merker House V44P46The floor plan for the Merker House. (Source: Hans Merker).


Like most architects, Karl drew designs for numerous projects that were never built. For example, there was an attempt by developers Merker and Ferraro to renovate and expand a nursing home operation in the prestigious old mansion, Ker Cavan, on Stuart Street. Karl had a rendering done showing a matching new building to the south of the original, his contemporary version of a Victorian style. The nursing home project failed to materialize, according to Merkel, when another developer simply outbid them for the land and put up the houses and townhouses now on the site.

 Historic Guelph The Merker House V44P46The Merker House from the north. (Source: Stelter, 2005).


In the midst of what was probably Karl's most productive period, he developed serious heart problems. In March of 1989, he went to Toronto to have two heart valves repaired. Typically, the intensely private man told virtually no one about his problem; one of his partners only learned about it from Gertrude Sykes on the day of the operation. The operation was less than successful, and leakage had to be repaired in December of 1989.

 Historic Guelph V544P47Rendering of the Ker Cavan nursing home proposal. (Source: Orbis Property Management).



Despite his health, Karl continued to work at a strong pace in the early 1990s and did some of his most important work at this time. The staff numbered about ten, but without office manager, Gertrude, who died quite suddenly in 1992 of cancer after going to the hospital for what seemed to be a routine case of gall stones.

 Historic Guelph Guelph Turfgrass Institute V44P47The Guelph Turfgrass Institute. (Source: Stelter, 2005).


One of Karl's favorite projects was the Guelph Turfgrass Institute, built in 1990 to 1992 at a cost of $1.1 million. This was a joint venture of the University of Guelph, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and the private turfgrass industry, but the multiple clients apparently did not present problems in choosing a design for the building. As in his other projects, Karl relied on detailed topographical maps of the 53-acre site in order to determine the best location. He and the clients chose a knoll overlooking the city, at some distance from Victoria Road. He consciously oriented the building's central hall to look toward the city's major landmark, the Church of Our Lady. Karl told me that he wanted the building, with its dormers and barn-like look to evoke the spirit of traditional agricultural buildings in the area.

 Historic Guelph V44P48The main hallway of the Turfgrass Institute looking toward the Church of Our Lady. (Source: Stelter, 2005).


The Turfgrass Institute building had two functions: one is for research programs for drought and pest control in turfgrass; the other is to provide rental meeting rooms. The interior includes the main meeting room with a cathedral ceiling and spectacular views of the city. The imposing setting and the architectural form of the building have become, as Karl hoped, fitting symbols of Guelph's historic close connection with a progressive and advanced form of agriculture.


Historic Guelph Sketch & Plans V44P49Image Left: First conceptual sketch of Euteneier house. (Source: Tom Euteneier).

Image Right: Second stage of plans for Euteneier house. (Source: Tom Euteneier).


Less prominent commissions during this period included another project with the German investors group - the renovation of the old Guelph Soap Factory into the Surrey Street Medical Clinic in 1991. The firm also designed the Sugartree Apartments on Imperial Road in 1991, built at a cost of $8 million, and the plant for Tiger Drylac on Southgate Drive in the Hanlon Industrial Park in 1992.


Historic Guelph V44P49

Image Left: Karl holding first 'spaghetti' model of Euteneier house. (Source: Stelter, 2005).

Image Right: A late stage in the Euntenier house conceptual drawings. (Source: Tom Eunteneier).


An example of how Karl worked with a client is the design he developed for Tom Euteneier, the owner of Constellation Homes. Euteneier first approached him in the fall of 1990 about plans for his own home at 4586 Watson Road. After a site visit, at which Karl recommended a radical re-arrangement of the driveway, Karl began by drawing a rough conceptual plan based on several circles. The design slowly evolved during 1991 with Karl incorporating a 'North German' look to the windows and towers at the client's request. Karl's staff also built two successive 'spaghetti models' which illustrate the progress of the planning. The design was never completely used, as Euteneier felt that it had become too expensive, and he eventually built to his own, simplified plan. Karl only charged him $2,400 for all the design work, which Euteneier thinks was, "Peanuts," for all the effort that Karl and his staff put in.46

 Historic Guelph V44P50From Gooderham and Worts Warehouse to Walker Building Complex.


The most daring project of this period was the transformation of three dilapidated storage buildings into prestige office space known as the Walker Building, just across the tracks from the CN station. Here Karl was both client and designer for this was the same partnership that owned the renovated stone building at 97 Farquhar Street, which included Sev Peloso, who owned the property, and the builder Guido Gatto. Peloso had purchased the property in the mid-1960s and rented out space for storage and light industrial activities. The central building had been constructed about 1858 by Gooderham and Worts as a regional grain collection depot for their large distillery in Toronto. The two other buildings probably were added later. In the early 20th century, the complex was used as a warehouse by the Walker Wholesale Fruit Company, hence the name. In an interview with the Mercury in 1994, Peloso pointed out that:

"It would have been cheaper to demolish the buildings and start from the ground up... but Karl had a feeling about restoring buildings, about using what you can of the old and incorporating the new."47

 Historic Guelph Repliated Building V44P50The replicated building to the left, the original to the right, and a third floor added above them. (Source: Stelter, 2005).


Karl's design incorporated the three buildings into one, with the main (northeastern) building joined to one to the south which was totally rebuilt as it was beyond repair. A dramatic third floor was added above the two joined buildings, with exposed steel beams, a large amount of glass, and many triangles. The building to the west, with its various roof lines, were also connected, making the whole complex into one building. Karl made some changes to his original conceptual design after Peloso suggested dropping the proposed third floor dormers for the current simpler band of windows. As much of the interior detail as possible was kept. This included hand-hewn timber columns and beams and sliding steel doors.


From Peloso's perspective, the development charges levied by the city were exorbitant. As well, City Hall staff, "Drove us absolutely cuckoo with regulations."48 Staff in the Building and Traffic departments argued that the project was an expansion, not just an improvement of an existing building, and that the parking available was not adequate for the number of people expected to work there. City staff stalled the building process for more than a year. According to Peloso, the partnership finally had to send a legal representative to a City Council meeting to force staff to grant a building permit. Rules suddenly became more flexible and additional space for parking was found on city and railway land.

 Historic Guelph Karl in New Office V44P51Karl in his new office on the third floor of the Walker building. (Source: Stelter, 1995).


Tenants quickly took up the attractive office space, with Eagle's Flight, for example, leasing the entire western building. Karl and his architectural firm moved from the Bank of Nova Scotia Building to take up the third floor with its feeling of open space and its stunning views of Guelph in every direction. But the move coincided with a disastrous downturn in Guelph's economy and therefore in the amount of work for the firm. When I interviewed Karl in early 1995, the office was virtually deserted and he admitted that while it was, "A great office; we've run out of work and can't afford it." Partners and staff temporarily left for work elsewhere and the firm moved to smaller quarters on the ground floor from where it still operates. Barry Johnson and Paul Critchley became minority partners in 1989. In the spring of 1995, they formally became senior partners, and the firm was now known as 'Briestensky, Johnson, Critchley, Architects,' with BJC as their logo (below).

 Historic Guelph CJB Logo V44P51


After 1994, Karl concentrated on commercial architecture such as the Newmarket Whole Home Store and Sears stores in Windsor, Kitchener, and Belleville. He also designed a big house for Clair Boudreau at the Forks of the Credit in 1998.



Karl's health deteriorated badly early in 2001. In April, he had further heart surgery and a pacemaker was installed. His interest in architecture and in historic preservation, however, continued unabated. He produced what was probably the best house design of his career, 45 years after his first one.


The new house commission came in the fall of 2001 from Dr. Susan Armstrong-Reid and her husband, Dr. Richard Reid, who had purchased a large lot on Serena Road in the Rolling Hills subdivision south of the city. Karl had worked for them previously, designing a substantial addition to their historic house on Harcourt Drive in the mid-1980s. Their next door neighbour, Bill Coates, had recommended Karl. Susan recalls expecting an architect wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase. What appeared seemed like an apparition with wild hair, a raccoon coat, and Wellington boots. Yet they found Karl very easy to work with and his design was very sensitive to the character of the old limestone house.49 For the new house, Susan spelled out her wishes: she didn't want any straight lines and she wanted the outside and inside merged as much as possible. For Karl, this was a dream come true. Here was a client who shared his notions about an ideal house.

 Historic Guelph V44P52

Rear elevation of the Armstrong-Reid house. (Source: Susan Armstrong-Reid).


The site, however, was challenging, with a ravine across a portion of it. Karl ordered an aerial survey and walked over the lot several times with his clients. He had several meetings with Susan trying out various schemes with his trusty red pencil and the ever-present tracing paper. Susan remembers one of the meetings took place while they both watched the dramatic events of 9/11 unfold on the television.


The basic design could be considered the culmination of his designing career, combining the triangular emphasis of his earlier years with the circular approach of the later period. A three-dimensional triangle was set into a circle and sloped upwards, terminating in a dramatic A-frame shaped window. Basically, this was the living room and the other functions were attached, in circular fashion, on either side.

 Historic Guelph V44P53First floorplans of the Armstrong-Reid house. (Source: Susan Armstrong-Reid).


The completed working drawings were dated April 11, 2002. They included views of the complicated elevations; the complex framing by Tacoma Steckley, Engineers; and the very sophisticated plumbing and heating by Fred Jewett Engineers.50 Then, only weeks before they went to construction tenders, the business circumstances of the clients changed and the building project had to be postponed. Karl must have been keenly disappointed for he would have known that this was one of his finest designs.


That same spring, Karl played a significant role in the first annual Doors Open Guelph program sponsored by the Guelph Arts Council and LACAC (now Heritage Guelph). He and Doug Bridge gave brief public addresses at the Wellington Building, outlining their efforts to restore this historic masterpiece. Karl also spoke at his own building, the Walker Building, the old Gooderham and Worts Warehouse that he had adapted into office space.


These were probably his last public addresses. In November, doctors discovered that he had throat cancer and performed a laryngectomy, the removal of the voice box. He did not work again. When I next saw him, in July of 2003, he had come to see the five architectural models of the proposed Civic Administration Building which were displayed at the River Run. He now had a hole in his throat and could not speak, although he later used a mechanical device that worked to a certain extent. But that day he let me know that while he could no longer work, he still was thinking about architecture. And he showed me which of the five models he liked best.

 Historic Guelph V44P54

Karl at the displays of the Civic Administration Building models in the River Run Centre, July 2003. (Source: Stelter, 2003).


His daughter Maria who saw him regularly says that he became noticeably weaker during 2004, yet he continued to take care of birds and household chores. On October 2nd and 3rd, he welcomed participants of Guelph Arts Council's Historical Walking Tours to his house.51 He died 12 days later, remarkably on the same day that his old friend and colleague, Dick Pagani, died in Niagara Falls.



This outline of Karl Briestensky's career can only be considered the first draft of any definitive assessment. But it does lead to some interesting questions about the role of an architect in a community, and indeed, about the very character of that community itself.


Most clients with fairly conventional needs probably came to Karl because he was the best known of the local architects, but also because he and his firm had developed a reputation for practical work done on time. And yet, whether it was commercial, industrial, or multi-residential, his work always bore a distinctive stamp, something that made you realize who had designed it. In other cases, clients wanted something different and thought that Karl could design something that compared favorably with the best that was created anywhere in the country. Guelph has a great architectural tradition, and one might wonder where Karl fits into it. There is no question that the city's greatest monuments were designed by outside architects, usually from Toronto, as in the case of City Hall by William Thomas, the County Court House by Thomas Young, the Church of Our Lady by Joseph Connelly, St. George's Church by Henry Langley, and in the modern period, the River Run Centre by Ted Teshima. Of local architects, John Hall, Victor Stewart and John Day were the best of the Victorians. William Mahoney and Frye Colwill were the leading architects of the early 20th century, and Allan Sage and Richard Pagani at mid-century. None of these architects, local or outside, however, came anywhere near matching the quantity and variety of architectural work done by Karl Briestensky in Guelph. Nor did any of them create so many buildings that bore such a distinctive, recognizable style.


Architects are usually judged by a few of their best buildings. Karl's best would have to include St. John's Church, the Turfgrass Institute, the National Trust Building (now simply A2 Wyndham Street North), and perhaps the demolished Kennelly house. Another category, restorations and renovations, would include the Wellington Building and the Walker Building. Whether these will stand the test of time remains to be seen, but they certainly deserve far more attention from within the community and beyond than they have received.


Much of any architect's work, of course, is on the ordinary, functional buildings that make up the bulk of any city's built environment. Karl went beyond the purely functional in even the most mundane projects. In this respect, his work tells us a great deal about the community's tastes and aspirations. It acts as a mirror of who we are and what we think a good city should look like. After all, a great many practical clients made this artistic architect the most popular architect in the city for more than 40 years.



  1. Eileen Macerollo, taped interview, March 12, 2005.
  2. Virginia Briestensky, taped interview, February 19, 2005.
  3. Karl Briestensky, taped interview, February 3, 1995.
  4. Eberhard Zeidler, quoted in Harold Kalmary, A History of Canadian Architecture (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1994, vol. 2, p. 840.
  5. Robert Hughes, Barcelona (New York: Knopt, 1992), p. 466-467.
  6. Guelph Mercury, May 21, 1959.
  7. Helen Brimmell, conversation, May 16, 2005.
  8. Elio Stradiotto, interview, March 4, 2005.
  9. Allan Sage, taped interview, February 19, 1994.
  10. Richard Pagani, taped interview, February 22, 1995.
  11. Guelph Mercury, November 29, 1965.
  12. Briestensky Firm Projects, a detailed record of most of the buildings associated with the firm. Karl gave me a duplicate copy in 1998.
  13. Cyndy Naylol, taped interview, March 4, 2005.
  14. David McAuley, interview, April 7, 2005.
  15. December 12, 1990. Quoted in James J. Elmslie, A History of St. John's Church: The First Quarter Century,1966-1991(Published by the Parish, 1991), p. 20.
  16. Francis Sienna, The Unforgivable Sin: Memories and Reflections of a Married Catholic Priest (Charles Town, WV: Granite Press, 1999), p. 133. He still thinks of the building of St. John's Church as the highlight of his life. Taped interview with Francis Sienna, February 20, 2005.
  17. Elmsley, A History of St. John's, p. 19.
  18. Kalmary, A History of Canadian Architecture, vol. 2, p. 819-820.
  19. Karl Briestensky, interview.
  20. Looking Around: A Journey Through Architecture (New York: Viking, 1992), p. 147.
  21. Guelph Mercury, Dec. 28, 1971.
  22. Paul Critchley and Barry Johnson, taped interview, March 25, 2005.
  23. John Clinkett, taped interview, April 14, 2005.
  24. Janet Chandlec, taped interview, March 21, 2005.
  25. Dates and dollar figures come from the firm's own figures. Cited hereafter as BJC.
  26. Briestensky, interview, 1995.
  27. Doug Bridge, interview, March 16, 2005.
  28. Guelph Mercury, October 19-20, 1978.
  29. B. Laplaunte, "Sunnyside gets modern facelift," Guelph Mercury, April 2,1980.
  30. Designated Buildings and Structures of Architectural and Historic lnterest in the City of Guelph, 1977-1994 (Guelph: Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee, 1994), p. 26; Florence Partridge, The Slopes of The Speed (Guelph: Guelph Arts Council, 1990), p. 15.
  31. Maria Povelofskie, taped interview, Febuary 10, 2005.
  32. Ray Ferraro, taped interview, March 2, 2005.
  33. Comment by Dr. Peter Hendridge, March 2, 2005.
  34. Gordon Couling, Where Guelph Began (Guelph: Guelph Arts Council, 1996), p. 8-9.
  35. BJC files.
  36. A short history of the building's changes as in Couling, Where Guelph Began, p. 14.
  37. Ferraro, interview.
  38. Larry Ford, Cities and Buildings: Skyscrapers, Skid Rows, and Suburbs (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), p. 219.
  39. Norman Harrison checked City Hall's Planning and Building Department records for this part of the account. The mill was designated as a heritage property in 1989.
  40. Quoted in the Guelph Mercury, May 28, 1986.
  41. Quoted in the Guelph Mercury, May 28, 1988.
  42. Sienna, interview.
  43. Guelph Mercury, May 28, 1988.
  44. Joe Wolfond Jr., conversation, March 18, 2005.
  45. Hans Merker, conversation, March 31, 2005. Architectural drawings in possession of Mr. Merker.
  46. Tom Euteneier, conversation, March 31, 2005. Karl's series of drawings for this house in possession of Mr. Euteneier.
  47. Guelph Mercury, September 8, 1994.
  48. Sev Peloso, taped interview, February 22, 2005.
  49. Susan Armstrong-Reid, conversation, May 4, 2005.
  50. Working Drawings in possession of the Reids.
  51. Arts in Guelph, January/February, 2005.
  52. I have written about some of these earlier architects in several articles, including, "Henry Langley and the Making of Gothic Guelph," Historic Guelph, vol. 28 (September 1989); "The Carpenter/Architect and the Ontario Townscape: John Hall, Jr., of Guelph," Historic Guelph, vol. 30 (September 1991); "The Architect and the Community: W. Frye Colwill and Turn of the Century Guelph ," Historic Guelph, vol. 33 (September 1994); "Buildings and Guelph's Character," in Guelph: Perspective on a Century of Change, 1900-2000 (Guelph: Guelph Historical Society, 2000), ed. Dawn Matheson and Rosemary Anderson.