TORONTO - For the past seven years, internationally-recognized architect Bruce Kuwabara has been able to look out his office window and see his dream become a reality -- literally.

Located at the corner of King and John in Toronto's downtown core, the office of Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects (KPMB) is right across the street from one of the largest projects the firm has ever designed, the Bell Lightbox and Festival Tower.

"We've watched it every single day," Kuwabara tells "It's a fantastic experience to literally see it come into focus."

Working together with the Toronto International Film Festival, Kuwabara was given the task of designing not only a new home for the annual 10-day festival, but a space where people could also experience film and programming the other 355 days a year.

"Not only is it a centre for the presentation and appreciation of film but it's also a place of socialization where people can come and really have an expanded communal experience around film," says Kuwabara.

The five-storey building, which will officially open its doors on Sept. 12, takes up an entire city block in Toronto's entertainment district. It will feature a three-storey atrium, five public cinemas with more than 1,300 seats, two galleries, three learning studios, a centre for students and scholars and the staff offices of TIFF, as well as a lounge and two Oliver and Bonacini restaurants. The rooftop will house an outdoor amphitheatre, modeled after Italy's Villa Malaparte, which was featured prominently in Jean-Luc Godard's 1963 film "Contempt."

The Lightbox also serves as the base for the Festival Tower – an upscale 42-storey condominium.

Even though construction began on Feb. 1, 2007, the project has been in the works since September, 2003 – around the same time Kuwabara's first child was born.

"I always clock in on the life of this project through that because my son's birthday is coming up again. I think, ‘wow, seven years, it's pretty amazing.'"

Kuwabara likens the long process to that of making a film.

"There's so many people involved in the production of a building at this scale. It's very, very big. TIFF occupies 150,000 square ft. There are five and a half levels of parking below grade. There are approximately 400 condominium units, so this is not a small undertaking."

As well as films, a big focus of the Lightbox will be the experience of interacting with other people – from riding the escalator to having a coffee at the bustling streetfront bistro.

"This is what architects think about -- how to structure movement and how to create the conditions through which people interact in a very public communal sense."

Kuwabara says even though TIFF researched film centres in cities like London and Berlin, there's no other building in the world that has all the components that make up the Lightbox under one roof.

"In a way it's a real breakthrough and it establishes a kind of benchmark for the rest of the world."

Life and career highlights of Bruce Kuwabara:

  • born in Hamilton, Ont.
  • graduated from the University of Toronto School of Architecture in 1972 and went on to work with George Baird and Barton Myers Associates
  • founded KPMB with partners Thomas Payne, Marianne McKenna and Shirley Blumberg in 1987
  • received the RAIC Gold Medal for Architecture in 2006 – Canada's highest honour bestowed by the profession on an individual.
  • taught at the Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design at U of T and the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University
  • Honorary Co-Chair for Fundraising responsible for establishing the Frank Gehry International Design Chair at the U of T
  • KPMB has been awarded 11 Governor General's Awards
  • the firm has designed such buildings as Canada's National Ballet School, the Canadian Embassy in Berlin and Toronto's Gardiner Museum

Stay tuned for's coverage of the official opening of the Bell Lightbox.