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 has refocused attention not only on the bridges but on surrounding public spaces, encouraging more people to enjoy the riverside areas and views of the river at night. Being outdoor, the artwork has remained accessible throughout 2020 in a Covid-safe manner.

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 audioguide and map of the first four bridges highlights key sites of historical interest along the south bank. Meanwhile 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 via Soundcloud and listened to on site or at home

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, llluminated River are collaborating 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. Our thought leadership about urban lighting, instigated the ‘Lighting London’ research from the Centre for London that is reviewing public lighting approaches in London, with findings to be shared in 2021.

Working with our Communities

Illuminated River connects six 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.

We were granted UNESCO patronage for our contribution to culture, science, architecture and heritage and they endorsed our broad programme of public events accompanying the first phase of illumination. We also launched Community Fund for projects initiated by local organisations and community groups that respond to Illuminated River. In 2020 the Foundation successfully collaborated with Coin Street Community Builders on initiatives including virtual art workshops and the delivery of Christmas care packages to local people in need with the help of FM Conway and their E-cargo bikes, used during the installation of the artwork. The Foundation has also organised free walks especially for NHS workers at Guy’s and St Thomas’ – a programme that will be expanded as distancing restrictions are lifted.

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 helped 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 have replaced 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 has reduced 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 are 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 nine bridges of Illuminated River have four different owners and span six 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 until July 2029. 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, which has continued throughout the pandemic, 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.