The Project

Illu­min­ated River is the first cohes­ive light­ing vis­ion for the Thames bridges in cent­ral Lon­don, cel­eb­rat­ing the struc­tures as archi­tec­tur­al, social and his­tor­ic­al land­marks, and cre­at­ing a sym­bol­ic link across the polit­ic­al, fin­an­cial and cul­tur­al centres of the cap­it­al. At 3.2 miles in length, Illu­min­ated River spans from Lon­don to Lam­beth bridges, mak­ing it the longest pub­lic art com­mis­sion in the world. It will last for at least ten years and the Found­a­tion will fund all main­ten­ance, replace­ment and elec­tri­city costs.

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 British architecture practice Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands plus 18 specialist teams, 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, the environmentally conscious illuminations are unique to each bridge. Each one has been created to form a ribbon of subtly shifting colour and light, showcasing the architecture and celebrating the history of the bridges.

Illumination on the first four bridges was unveiled in 2019 and five more were completed in April 2021. Completing on time and on budget despite constant challenges, including Covid-19 restrictions, Illuminated River is transforming the Thames at night, offering a cultural experience that is open air, free to view and accessible to all. With no ticketing or queuing, this monumental installation provides the public with the opportunity to enjoy the architectural beauty of London’s bridges and gain an understanding of their relationship with the river flowing beneath them.

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. Illuminated River’s extensive network of more than 50 stakeholders and project partners includes seven London boroughs, five bridge owners including Transport for London and Network Rail, as well as organisations such as Historic England, the London Wildlife Trust and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

Fully funded by private philanthropists with the backing of the Mayor of London, the project’s funders include Arcadia – a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, the Blavatnik Family Foundation, the Reuben Foundation (which funded the illumination of Westminster Bridge) and the Rothschild Foundation.

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London:

"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.

Illuminated River’s original vision spanned from Albert Bridge in the west to Tower Bridge in the east. This animation shows artist Leo Villareal’s initial design concepts for the 14 bridges.

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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