Illuminated River reveals first four bridges of ambitious art commission

Four of the Thames’s most famous bridges have been transformed overnight with the launch of the first phase of Illuminated River – an ambitious new art commission for London that will eventually see up to 15 bridges lit along the Thames. The project is the result of an unparalleled collaboration between London- based and international creative talent, local authorities and partners. Free to view, and accessible to all, Illuminated River is a symbol of London’s creativity, ambition and spirit. The artwork celebrates the architecture and heritage of London’s historic bridges, and will encourage more people to enjoy the river and the riverside at night. Artwork for the first four bridges will be seen more than 60 million times each year by Londoners and visitors alike.

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Illuminated River as viewed from One Blackfriars © James Newton

Conceived by internationally-acclaimed American artist Leo Villareal, and British architectural practice Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, Illuminated River is a philanthropically-funded initiative supported by the Mayor of London and delivered by the Illuminated River Foundation. Working with seven different local authorities, Illuminated River is the biggest single planning application ever made without an act of parliament. It is the first time the Thames bridges have been cohesively and artistically lit.

Four bridges – London, Cannon Street, Southwark and Millennium – are now lit up in unison, with sequenced LED patterns subtly unfolding across each unique structure. Villareal’s artwork replaces outdated and inefficient lighting on the bridges, providing a more long-term sustainable solution for lighting the Thames. Designed by Atelier 10, the lighting will minimize direct light spill onto the river and reduce energy consumption. While the former lighting ran all night, from dusk to dawn, Illuminated River’s connected LED lighting from Signify (formerly Philip’s Lighting) will be switched off at 2am. The new artwork will be in place for at least 10 years.

Villareal follows in the footsteps of generations of artists who have been inspired by the Thames, using the latest connected LED lighting to ‘paint with light’, and drawing on colours influenced by the palettes of Impressionist and English Romantic painters. With shifting hues that mimic the London sky during sunset, moonlight, and sunrise, and gently kinetic patterns that are inspired by the natural and social activity of the river, Villareal’s artwork celebrates the Thames as London’s living artery.

The artwork has been sensitively developed, paying attention to heritage, wildlife and the location of each bridge, respecting and revealing their individual histories and architectural features. The dynamic public artwork refocuses attention on the Thames bridges as social, historical and architectural landmarks, and celebrates their role in London’s enduring global identity.

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