The Project

Illu­mi­nat­ed Riv­er will trans­form the cap­i­tal at night, light­ing up 14 bridges along 2.3 miles of the Thames. Once com­plete, it will be the longest pub­lic art project in the world, and will be seen over 130 mil­lion times each year of its decade-long lifespan. 

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.

Villareal is best known for Bay Lights, installed the length of the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge in 2013. With Illuminated River he 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.

Illumination on the first four bridges was unveiled in 2019: five more will be completed in 2020, and the remaining five the following year. Free and accessible for all, this new public artwork encourages Londoners to enjoy their river and riverside at night. The Thames runs through 13 boroughs, flowing past cultural sites, historic monuments, parliament and palaces, warehouses, factories, parks, homes, pubs and offices. Illuminated River returns attention to the architecture of the Thames itself.

The project is led by the Illuminated River Foundation, and has required the collaboration of London’s creative talent with statutory bodies and local communities. 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.

From the Fourth Plinth to Art on the Underground, our city has a rich heritage of showcasing public art, and I am delighted that Illuminated River is bringing more free and accessible artwork to Londoners. The Thames has played a key role in the growth and development of our capital for centuries, and this unique artwork will help Londoners and visitors see it in a whole new way. The Illuminated River will celebrate the unique architecture and heritage of our bridges, showcase creativity, boost life at night and transform the way we think about the Thames.

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London

Animation of artist Leo Villareal’s final design concepts for the 14 bridges. This animation focuses on the artistic concept and is not an accurate representation of London at night and omits street and footway lighting on the bridges and navigation lights.

View the shortlisted entries for Illuminated River's initial competition to light London's bridges, which attracted over 100 submissions from artists across the world.

Project Team

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