New phase of five Illuminated River bridges starts on time as London emerges out of lockdown

Westminster Bridge Illuminated River artwork ©Leo Villareal Studio
Westminster Bridge pre-Illuminated River © James Newton
  • Illuminated River is a public art commission on an unprecedented scale to light up to 14 central London Thames bridges at night
  • The second phase of the next five bridges starts on site today, Friday, 17th July 2020, on the anniversary of the first phase
  • Despite lockdown, the project is being installed on time and on budget, with the artworks for Blackfriars Road Bridge, Waterloo Bridge, the Golden Jubilee Footbridges, Westminster Bridge, and Lambeth Bridge due to be unveiled in Spring 2021
  • The Illuminated River artwork is created by internationally-acclaimed American artist Leo Villareal in collaboration with award-winning British architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands

The Illuminated River Foundation is delighted to announce that installation of the next phase of the Illuminated River public art commission is now underway. The site works will extend the light artwork to include an additional five bridges, from Blackfriars in the east to Lambeth Bridge in the west – transforming nocturnal views of the city and celebrating the Thames bridges as social, historical and architectural landmarks.

By redoubling its efforts during the critical window before the lockdown of construction sites, the Foundation was able to accelerate site surveys – ensuring that design, fabrication and planning of its second phase could progress as lockdown took hold. The result is that, despite Covid-19, the public artwork for London is now on site and remains on track for delivery.

Illuminated River’s second phase encompasses the constitutional heart of London, incorporating bridges alongside sites of significant cultural and historic importance including Lambeth Palace and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Palace of Westminster, as well as contemporary landmarks such as the London Eye and the modernist Southbank complex. By Spring 2021 the number of bridges lit by the artwork will be expanded to nine, with Illuminated River reaching from London Bridge to Lambeth Bridge.

The latest phase will see Westminster and Lambeth Bridges enhanced with gentle washes of green and red light respectively – an allusion to the colour code of benches in the historic debating chambers of the Houses of Commons and Lords. The intricately vaulted undercroft of the 1862 Westminster Bridge – central London’s oldest bridge – will be celebrated for the first time in shifting cadences of soft green light, made possible with generous support from the Reuben Foundation.

At the heart of the South Bank the contemporary spans of the Golden Jubilee Footbridges will be lauded in subtly moving monochromatic lighting. In contrast, Waterloo Bridge, opened in 1942, is conceived by Leo Villareal as a focal point for exploring colour palettes represented in paintings of the Thames by American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler and Impressionist and English Romantic artists including Claude Monet. Uniting the second phase of the artwork with the adjacent first phase bridges, the wrought-iron arches of the 1869 Blackfriars Road Bridge will be lightly accented in a slowly evolving warm colour palette.

Illuminated River saves previously wasted energy through a combination of LED fittings and reduced hours of illumination, with the first phase showing a significant reduction in energy use compared to previous bridge lighting. To reduce pollution through vehicle emissions and to minimise road congestion, during the second construction phase deliveries to the bridge sites are being made by cargo delivery bikes.

The first phase artwork across London Bridge, Cannon Street, Southwark and Millennium Bridges has been seen over 20 million times since launching a year ago in Summer 2019. Positively received by the public and critics alike for its contribution to London’s global identity, the project has also received praise for its sensitive attention to London’s historic built environment, and for its focus on sustainability and the ecology of the Thames.

Neil Mendoza, Government Commissioner for Cultural Recovery and Renewal and Chair of the Illuminated River Foundation’s Board of Trustees, said: “The extraordinary Illuminated River project moves into its second phase with work starting on five central London bridges (from Blackfriars to Lambeth). This project is a combination of pioneering artistic endeavour and a beautiful, practical lighting contribution to the city’s public realm that will endure for many years. Despite the pandemic we remain on budget and on time. The Illuminated River is a gift to London made possible by the generosity of four world-leading charitable foundations – The Rothschild Foundation, Arcadia, Blavatnik Family Foundation and the Reuben Foundation.”

Justine Simons OBE, Deputy Mayor for Culture and the Creative Industries, said: “The Illuminated River has been a fantastic addition to our city’s rich history of free and accessible public art. It has helped Londoners and visitors to the capital to see the river in a new way, lighting up our unique bridges and celebrating its huge impact on our lives. It’s great news that work is now beginning on lighting up more bridges for everyone to enjoy.”

Waterloo Bridge Illuminated River artwork © Leo Villareal Studio


Waterloo bridge currently (June 2020) © James Newton

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About Illuminated River
Illuminated River is a long-term art installation transforming the capital at night with an orchestrated series of light works that will ultimately span 2.3 miles along the Thames. Its subtly moving sequences of LED light symbolically unify London’s Thames bridges, drawing inspiration from the spirit and history of the river and from the architectural and engineering heritage of its bridge structures.

Once fully complete, Illuminated River will be the longest public art project in the world, seen more than 130 million times a year. Illuminated River is freely accessible to all and encourages Londoners and visitors to engage with culture in the open air and to enjoy the public spaces of the river and riverside at night.

Led by the Illuminated River Foundation, the project involves a unique and long lasting collaboration of statutory bodies, local authorities and communities, and will leave a legacy for the capital in the form of a dynamic public artwork with a minimum lifespan of 10 years.

Illuminated River’s subtly moving sequences of LED light reveal the beauty of the existing architecture of London’s bridges and their relationship to the river that flows beneath them. Designed and programmed by New York-based artist Leo Villareal, working with project architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, the work brings to life aspects of the city otherwise hidden after dark. Rather than flooding the river itself with light, it draws attention to the bridges across the Thames, their relationship to one another and to the neighbourhoods they connect on either bank.

In Illuminated River, Villareal addresses the bridges along the Thames like jewels on a single thread: as singular objects to be celebrated for their individual character, and as part of a grand sequence.

Apart from an initial investment of £250,000 from the Olympic Reserve towards the costs of an international competition, Illuminated River is funded through philanthropic sources, and will continue to seek the balance from private sources rather than the public purse.

Project team
Artist: Leo Villareal Studio
Lead consultant: Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands
Contractor: FM Conway
Cost consultant: Core Five
Principal designer: PFB Ltd
EIA consultant: Temple Group
Ecology consultant: Thomson Ecology
Planning consultant: Montagu Evans
Structural engineering: Price & Myers
Marine engineering: Beckett Rankine
MEP engineering: Atelier Ten
Lighting manufacturers: Signify (formerly Philips Lighting)
Community engagement: Iceni
Measured survey: MSA Ltd
Bats and birds survey: The Wildlife Trust

About Leo Villareal
The acclaimed American artist Leo Villareal (b. 1967 Albuquerque, New Mexico), a pioneer of LED light sculpture, creates intricate light installations for both gallery and public settings. He came to international prominence through his project, The Bay Lights, which illuminated the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in 2013. Initially conceived as a two-year display, the popularity of The Bay Lights led it to be transformed into a permanent installation, now an iconic visual element of the San Francisco’s landscape. He focuses on identifying the governing structures of systems, and is interested in base units such as pixels and binary code. His installations use custom, artist-created code, which constantly changes the frequency, intensity, and patterning of lights through sequencing. Villareal has created temporary and permanent light works and sculptures for public spaces and museums including the Morris and Sophie Chang Building, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Herbert F. Johnson Museum, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C; and Rice University, Houston, Texas.

About Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands
Award-winning architects, design consultants and urban planners, Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands (LDS) have worked on major projects across London including the Golden Jubilee Footbridges. The practice has a 25-year relationship with communities and businesses in London’s South Bank, having created the area’s urban design strategy and worked with the Coin Street Community Builders to regenerate the area through the development of co-operative housing and commercial ventures to support new urban realm initiatives.

LDS was established in 1986 and operates from a Grade II listed building in West London, formerly the home of Island Records. Its portfolio encompasses residential, workplace, urban design and master planning, interior design, retail and restaurants, as well as education and community buildings. Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands have won over 80 awards including the RIBA ‘London Architect of the Year’ in 2015, the 2016 Mayor’s Housing Design Award, a 2017 RIBA National Design Award for its Paradise Gardens project and the Best New Public Space, 2017 at the London Planning Awards. Further LDS projects include
the Institute of Future Living, the first phase of the new campus for UCL in East London. As well as an established reputation for innovative design, the practice is known for its creative adaptation of historic buildings, from the Oxo Tower refurbishment of the 1990s to the acclaimed transformation of Foyles Bookshop’s flagship store and auctioneer Bonhams New Bond Street Headquarters.

About Illuminated River Foundation
An independent charity, the Illuminated River Foundation was set up to deliver the major public artwork, Illuminated River. The Foundation is committed to raising private funding for the installation and maintenance of the project, and has already received generous funding from Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin through Arcadia, the Rothschild Foundation, the Blavatnik Family Foundation and the Reuben Foundation. Seed funding was awarded from the Mayor of London’s Office for the initial competition, and from the City of London Corporation for replacing light fittings on London Bridge.

Illuminated River is supported by the Mayor of London and governed by an independent board of trustees chaired by Neil Mendoza, Government Commissioner for Cultural Recovery and Renewal and Provost of Oriel College, Oxford University. The Foundation is led by curator and public realm champion Sarah Gaventa, who was formerly Director of CABE Space at the Commission for Architecture and Built Environment.

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