TIFF Bell Lightbox Festival Tower

350 King Street West
Toronto, Ontario
TIFF Bell Lightbox Festival Tower


Type: New construction
Size: 547,000 sf (TIFF)
Project Cost: $196 million (TIFF)
Development Partners:
— Toronto International Film Festival Group
— The King and John Festival Corporation
— The Daniels Corporation
— Province of Ontario
— City of Toronto
Status: Opened in 2010

Located at the corner of King and John in downtown Toronto, TIFF Bell Lightbox / Festival Tower is a 46-storey cultural centre and condominium project with several hundred units. The cinema complex acts as the headquarters for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). It is located in the five-storey podium of the building and includes five cinemas, TIFF offices, two restaurants, a rooftop terrace, major exhibitions and gallery space, a gift shop, learning studios and a film reference library.

Complexity / Collaboration

The project was conceived in partnership by the Toronto International Film Festival Group and the King and John Festival Corporation, a joint venture consisting of the Reitman family and the Daniels Corporation. The building was designed to be animated at street level with a restaurant, boutique, gift shop, lobby, and museum. The idea of the design was to ensure maximum flexibility so that every element serves multiple roles/purposes. For example, interior walls can also function on as movie screens. The restaurant and bistro are the property of the King and John Festival Corporation.

User Interaction / Partnership Framework

The project was conceived as a single structure but can be understood as buildings within a building. The cinema and condominium uses are not integrated. The entrance to the Lightbox is on King Street while the entrance for the structure’s 46-storey condominium tower is on John Street, set back from the smaller buildings along King. Stairs that originally connected the two were cordoned off. The idea of the Lightbox was that of social space, a place to go for its own sake and not only to see moving images. The sense of openness and connectivity in the design is meant to help make people feel welcome.
TIFF Bell Lightbox Festival Tower drawing

Costs / Funding

TIFF’s campaign target for the five-storey Lightbox was $196-million, including $56-million for an endowment and operatingng expenditures. The financial support for the project came from many different sources. Access to infrastructure money became possible when TIFF was classified as a not-for-profit arts training facility, which allowed it to become eligible for loans through the Ontario Strategic Infrastructure Financing Authority. Fundraising took off in the fall of 2005 when TIFF announced it was receiving over $30-million from Bell Canada for naming rights and to be the preferred supplier through 2018, with an option for through 2023. The Governments of Canada and Ontario each contributed $25-million while the the King and John Festival Corporation contributed $22-million. Royal Bank of Canada is a major sponsor and the official bank. The campaign to build TIFF Bell Lightbox was also supported by the City of Toronto. TIFF is a non-for-profit organization and generates an annual economic impact of over $189 million.


Daniels originally applied for a height that exceeded what was permitted by over four times. In order to be allowed to build Festival Tower, they negotiated a Section 37 agreement which included building a new home for TIFF. For Daniels, this was not a difficult concession since TIFF was a huge attraction for people to buy condos. Developing a larger building allows considerable economies of scale. For example, the cost of loading docks and elevators are better absorbed. Including a larger mix of uses and more opportunities to socialize also allowed for the film experience to become more attractive to a larger audience. Initially, financing was difficult. It took years to convince public and private donors, nearly double the time that was originally planned. The downtown space was eventually filled out with condos and restaurants, which helped secure funding. Deciding what would go in the building that would advance an artistic and philosophical agenda while remaining financially viable was tricky, particularly since the organization only had experience filling a small art-house theatre on a part-time basis.


Project champions include Noah Cowan, TIFF’s former co-director who led the Lightbox for its first four years, architect Bruce Kuwabara, TIFF co-director Piers Handling, and Daniel’s senior vice-president Tom Dutton.

Unique Features

While mixing uses is not new, this building is unique in that it brings the idea to another level as an extension of the city and a series of buildings within a building, cited as reinventing city artistic infrastructure. TIFF Bell Lightbox set a precedent in Toronto for demonstrating how the arts can be merged with condominiums, and that if done well it can be a win-win for all involved. The project has become a cultural and social landmark.

South face of TIFF Bell Lightbox site along King Street