The Project

This transformative project will create a single lighting scheme for Central London’s bridges in order to connect, celebrate and capture the spirit of the Thames and its communities.

Leo Villareal working on The Bay Lights, San Francisco

This transformative project will create a single lighting scheme for Central London’s bridges in order to connect, celebrate and capture the spirit of the Thames and its communities.

As Mayor of London 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.”

Following an international competition run under OJEU rules with more than 105 submissions, the winning scheme, led by American light artist Leo Villareal and the London architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, 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.

Once complete, the Illuminated River will be:

  • the world’s longest public art commission at 2.5 miles long
  • completely free and always open
  • publicly accessible to all
  • in place for up to 20 years

Funding and Governance

With installation costs of £20 million, the Illuminated River Foundation will continue to raise money from private philanthropists, trusts and foundations.

To date generous support has been received: £5 million from Peter Baldwin and Lisbet Rausing through the Arcadia Fund, £5 million from The Rothschild Foundation, and £500,000 from the City of London Corporation. Seed funding of £250,000 was also received from the Mayor of London’s Office. The Foundation is committed to raise the remainder of the funds for the project from private and philanthropic sources, with no further public funding being sought.

More than twenty partners and stakeholders, The Mayor of London and relevant London boroughs are an integral part of this project. 

The competition was run according to OJEU rules and the winning team was chosen by a jury made up of artists, practitioners and curators supported by a team of engineers and technical advisors.

The project is governed by an independent board of trustees including Munira Mirza, Fabia Bromovsky, Neil Mendoza and chaired by Hannah Rothschild.

It is advised by a number of expert partner groups, comprising:

  • The Project Advisory Group
  • The Bridge Management Group
  • The Communications Group

The Illuminated River is a registered charity (No. 1168375).

The Competition

The Illuminated River International Design Competition was launched in June 2016 and attracted entries from 105 teams working in the fields of art, technology and design from all over the world.

A shortlist of six teams was selected by an independent panel and invited to submit design proposals. These proposals were displayed in a public exhibition at the Royal Festival Hall in November 2016.

In a related competition, developed in collaboration with Thames Festival Trust, pupils’ ideas were selected from four London secondary schools in the Boroughs of Ealing, Enfield, Sutton and Westminster, and the London Design and Engineering UTC in Newham. These were exhibited at the Royal Festival Hall alongside the shortlisted designs.

The winning team was chosen by a jury supported by a technical advisory panel, and the results were announced by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, on 7th December 2016.

The Illuminated River International Design Competition was run in accordance with EU procurement guidelines and the Public Contracts Regulations 2015. The competition was advertised in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) on behalf of the Illuminated River Foundation and was administered by Malcolm Reading Consultants.

Left to right: Michael Craig Martin, Dame Julia Peyton-Jones, Justine Simons, Lord Rothschild, Professor Ricky Burdett, James Turrell, Hannah Rothschild, Ralph Rugoff, Lucy Musgrave.

The Jury

Michael Craig-Martin, artist

Dame Julia Peyton-Jones, Director, Serpentine Galleries 1991-2016

Justine Simons, Deputy Mayor for Culture and Creative Industries, City Hall

Lord Rothschild OM GBE, Chairman, RIT Capital Partners plc, Chairman, Rothschild Foundation

Professor Ricky Burdett, Professor of Urban Studies and Director, LSE Cities and the Urban Age Programme

James Turrell, artist (Honorary Jury Member)

Hannah Rothschild, Chair, Illuminated River Foundation

Ralph Rugoff, Director, Hayward Gallery

Lucy Musgrave, Director, Publica

Malcolm Reading, architect and competition director (Professional Chair)

The Supporting Panel

The Jury were assisted in their decision making process by a report prepared by a supporting panel of experts and stakeholders.

Dr Piers Barnes, Research Associate, Department of Physics, Imperial College London

Jennifer Blake, Project Manager, Network Rail

Fabia Bromovsky, Trustee, The Illuminated River Foundation

Professor Ricky Burdett, Professor of Urban Studies, LSE

David English, Historic Places Advisor, Historic England

Nick Evans, Deputy Harbour Master Upper, Port of London Authority

Andy Foster, Service Manager, Bridges & Structures, Westminster City Council

John Gill, Infrastructure Services Director, Network Rail

Mark Major, Principal, Speirs+Major lighting designers

Paul Monaghan, Assistant Director, Engineering, City of London Corporation

Gary Noble, Chief Engineer, Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea

Matthew Thomas, Principal Policy & Programmes Officer, Environment, Greater London Authority

Adrian Westbury, Cost Consultant, Ridge

Susannah Wilks, Director, Cross River Partnership

The Shortlist

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