Legacy for London

Illu­min­ated River will leave a last­ing leg­acy for Lon­don, reflect­ing the city’s glob­al ambi­tion and creativity 

James Newton

Riverbank Space and Beyond

Illuminated River will bring attention not only to the bridges, but also to the public spaces around them, encouraging more people to come and enjoy the riverside areas and views of the river at night.

The scale of this project reflects the importance of London’s night-time economy. The river is currently London’s least-used transport artery, and foot traffic across the bridges drops after dark: Illuminated River will encourage travel along and across the river at night, at street level, on foot and by boat. We hope to encourage people to walk across the bridges instead of taking a bus or a cab, in line with TFL’s plan to make London a more walkable city.

Our collaboration with student composers at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama has produced musical scores inspired by the bridges. These can be downloaded for free, and listened to in situ by the riverbanks or when travelling over the bridges.

The studies we have undertaken while developing this project have prompted wider conversations about improvements to public space and lighting. As part of a long-term maintenance programme, Illuminated River will collaborate with other lighting and public realm projects along the river. We are working with bridge and local authorities to improve access to and around the bridges, exploring opportunities to make these areas more communal, inclusive and safe, as well as to improve lighting and add more public seating. We are supporting projects generated by community groups interested in improving the lighting of their areas, and sharing our knowledge with them.

Working with our Communities

Illuminated River connects seven London boroughs running along the north and south banks of the city. The artwork will help engage people in the river’s history and ecology, and encourage more people to benefit from time outdoors in riverside areas. Nearby schools have already been involved in river events and educational activities.

Our project partners have helped us compile data to create a clearer picture of Londoners' relationship to their river. Many children living in London have never seen the river, and young people feel increasingly disconnected from the river and London's natural spaces.

In response, UNESCO patronage supported a broad programme of public events to accompany the first phase of illumination, and we launched a fund for community initiated local projects that respond to Illuminated River.

Since there is currently no free, accessible way to enjoy being on the river, the Illuminated Rover Foundation is subsidising low price boat tours in partnership with Thames Clippers. We have collaborated with the charity VocalEyes to ensure that those with sight loss will be able to enjoy the artwork through audio description.

The River Environment

Mindful of the potential environmental impact, in planning this project we commissioned the first luminance studies of the Thames. This helps us understand which buildings and structures are creating light pollution on the river, and how best to minimise the light spill of Illuminated River. We have also conducted bat and bird surveys of the riverside areas. Data from all of these studies has been made available as a public resource. We hope they will increase understanding and inform the way we all use the Thames.

Smart LED technologies will replace out-dated and inefficient lighting on the bridges, providing a more sustainable solution for lighting the Thames at night. Removing metal halides and halogens, and employing efficient LEDs with custom fittings will reduce both energy consumption and light spill onto the river, providing a better environment for Thames flora and fauna.

Formerly, lighting on the bridges ran from dusk until dawn. We will be switching all our lights off at 2am, and encouraging other bridge owners to do the same to protect the darkness that is also fundamental to the Thames environment.

A Cohesive Vision for The Thames

The 14 bridges of Illuminated River have five different owners and span seven London boroughs. This is the first artistic and cohesive vision for the central Thames bridges, creating a symbolic link across the capital. Illuminated River Foundation will be funding the maintenance and energy costs of all the bridges that are not currently (or are only partially) illuminated. We will be reducing the energy costs to the bridge owners of those that are currently illuminated. Once the project has finished its official ten-year run, the Illuminated River lighting fixtures will be gifted to the bridge owners. It will be their decision, together with planners and the public, whether they wish to keep them running. In planning Illuminated River, a group of bridge owners and other key partners were brought together: once the project is running, for the first time the bridge owners will meet regularly to discuss the structures they care for, and share information and insights.


In planning this project we have called in the expertise of partners in sectors ranging from engineering and ecology, to culture and transport. They are working with the boroughs to support this cultural initiative in the belief that it will make the city more attractive and accessible for everyone.

Illuminated River is pioneering innovative lighting and engineering. The project has required 3D scans and measured surveys of the Thames bridges. The highly responsive lighting and control infrastructure for Illuminated River will enable greater, more coordinated and efficient control over the lighting of the bridges well into the future.

This project is the result of one of the most detailed and extensive pan-London planning processes the capital has ever seen without an act of parliament. It has been developed in consultation and collaboration with over 50 organisations on and around the river, including the Port of London Authority, Historic England, Transport for London, Network Rail, London Wildlife Trust, Zoological Society London, Cross River Partnership, the local Business Improvement Districts. Illuminated River has involved the local authorities of City of London, Tower Hamlets, Westminster, Southwark, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Lambeth and Wandsworth, from which 30 planning permissions and 18 listed building consents have been granted.

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