London’s Illuminated River project gets under way

The Illuminated River initiative, an ambitious public art project which will light up all of London’s main bridges across the Thames, has announced that the initial stage of the public art commission will light up London Bridge, Cannon Street, Southwark and the Millennium Bridges in summer 2019. Signify has been announced as the connected lighting partner.

Following the granting of planning permissions and the receipt of a multi-million pound philanthropic donation, work will commence on site “shortly’ – two years since the details of the winning team was announced by London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

Illuminated River reframes the Thames at night, celebrating London’s historic links with its river and creating a legacy for London in an artwork that will be in place for at least 10 years. This is the first time there has been a holistic strategy to light up all of central London’s bridges; the aim is to create a multi-level visual experience for the bridges viewed by pedestrians on the bridges, from London’s riverbanks, from the air, from tall buildings and by boat. When complete, the free and publicly accessible light installation will span up to 15 bridges, from Albert Bridge in West London to Tower Bridge in the City, unifying them in a single artwork and defining them as a sculptural and symbolic link across the capital.

Signify won the contract to supply its Interact Landmark  system and Philips Color Kinetics LED luminaires to light up the bridges with dynamic, artistic lighting effects via centrally managed software. Signify will also provide lifecycle services to remotely monitor and manage the connected bridge lighting for the next 10 years.

“Light is one of the most powerful means of breathing new life into leading cities and metropolitan areas, heralding a new era of urban design and beautification,” said Maria-Letizia Mariani, President of Europe and SVP at Signify. “We’ve lit bridges around the world and seen first-hand the positive impact that dynamic architectural lighting has on transforming local communities and economies. It’s wonderful to give the people of London stunningly-lit bridges with some lit up for the first time.”

The activation will be delivered in phases, with the full Illuminated River project due in 2022 – “subject to funding being secured”. The average cost for lighting up each bridge is around £3m.

The Illuminated River Foundation has committed to raising the funds for the project from private and philanthropic sources. The Blavatnik Family Foundation, founded by the Ukrainian-born American businessman Len Blavatnik, has become the third major supporter; the philanthropists Peter Baldwin and Lisbet Rausing had previously pledged £5m through the Arcadia Fund, and the Rothschild Foundation has contributed another £5m. Seed funding of £250,000 was also awarded by the Mayor of London’s office, with £500,000 coming from the City of London Corporation.

An international competition launched in June 2016 attracted more than 105 submissions. The winning scheme was led by American light artist Leo Villareal (responsible for lighting San Francisco’s Bay Bridge) and London architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands; it impressed the jury with their exciting kinetic artwork as well as their respect for the natural environment, local inhabitants and the architectural character and history of the bridges.

Villareal will use LED technology to ‘paint with light’, taking influence from the natural and social activity of the river and producing sequenced patterns that play across the bridge structures. His lighting design will engage specifically with the site of each bridge, respecting and revealing their distinctive histories and architectural features, while the integrated motion across fifteen bridges will create a unified artwork that references the river as a continuous living system.

As Mayor Sadiq Khan said: “The Illuminated River will give London free art. The project also means that a wasted asset and wasted resource will now be used. The team had thought through how the project is sustainable, how it will be energy efficient and use less energy.”

Sarah Gaventa, the director of the Illuminated River Foundation, said the charity believes the 4km long project will be the longest public art imitative in the world. “You don’t have to go out of your way to see the bridges; around 40 million people will see the first phase which is a very positive thing,” she said.

Chair of the Board of Trustees Neil Mendoza said: “A tremendous amount of work has been done since the winning team of Leo Villareal and Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands was announced almost two years ago.

“Much of that work has been undertaken in collaboration with organisations up and down the river, including one of the largest and most detailed planning processes London has seen.” The scheme has been developed in consultation and collaboration with over 50 organisations on and around the river, including seven local authorities; a total of 29 planning permissions and 18 listed building consents have been obtained from them.

Southwark Bridge. All images © Illuminated River, Leo Villareal Studio, 2018
Millennium Bridge
London Bridge
Cannon Street Bridge


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