Illuminated River gently washes nine very different Thames bridges in rhythmic colour inspired by centuries of art and culture. Using colour palettes influenced by paintings of the Thames by artists including Canaletto, Turner, Whistler and Monet, Leo Villareal’s artwork responds individually to each bridge, celebrating diverse architecture and rich urban histories. The art of Illuminated River also reflects the ever-moving river environment of today, echoing the movement of people, boats, traffic and the Thames itself.
Today’s London Bridge is a three-span concrete cantilever structure designed by William Holford & Partners and completed in 1973. There has been a bridge on this site for almost as long as there has been a City of London, with the first bridge recorded over 2,000 years ago and a 19-arch medieval bridge famous for accommodating around 140 houses.
Villareal's artwork responds to the continuous stream of movement, colour, sound, and cultural activity in this busy location. The simple silhouette of the bridge is complemented by broad fields of evolving warm colour.
Cannon Street Railway Bridge
Completed in 1866, Cannon Street Bridge is a plate-deck girder bridge, with the five-span structure supported on massive cast-iron columns. The original design by Sir John Hawkshaw was widened at the end of the 19th century and was extensively rebuilt after Second World War bomb damage. The bridge now carries 10 railway tracks across the Thames.
In subtle kinetic colours mirroring the motion of passing trains, Villareal's artwork celebrates the often-overlooked utilitarian character of the bridge as well as its monumental Doric columns.
The current Southwark Bridge was completed in 1921 to a design by Sir Ernest George and Basil Mott, replacing a previous structure by Sir John Rennie. Its five cast-iron arches are supported on giant abutments of grey granite, with the arches and piers directly aligned with those of Blackfriars Bridge to ease the flow of the river.
Using LED light and software rather than paint, Villareal’s artwork draws inspiration from sunsets, sunrises and the colour palettes of Impressionist masters. The artwork reiterates colours used on Cannon Street Bridge, but with slightly more saturation.
Millennium Bridge was completed in 2000 to provide London with its first new pedestrian bridge over the Thames for more than a century. The unusually shallow proportion of its stressed cable suspension structure is designed to allow spectacular views of Sir Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral.
In his artwork, Villareal references architect Sir Norman Foster’s original ‘blade of light’ concept for lighting the bridge. A pulse of light mirrors the movements of people, highlighting faces and casting silhouettes that enhance the bridge structure while preserving the inky darkness of the river below.
Blackfriars Road Bridge
The five iron arches of Blackfriars Road Bridge are supported on massive granite piers topped with carved Portland stone pulpits. The bridge was completed to a design by civil engineer Joseph Cubitt in 1869. Reflecting its location at the tidal turning point of the Thames, pulpit carvings by John Birnie Philip depict marine life and seabirds on its downstream face and freshwater birds upstream.
The colours of Leo Villareal’s artwork reference the remaining red pillar supports of the adjacent original bridge, with scarlet and mauve hues revealing the structure’s graceful underside.
The current Waterloo Bridge was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, architect of Battersea Power Station and the K6 red telephone box. Completed by a female workforce during the Second World War, the Portland stone-clad bridge consists of a pair of giant arched concrete beams supporting a road deck on transverse slabs.
In the spirit of the Impressionist artists who captured Sir John Rennie’s original Waterloo Bridge, Villareal’s artwork washes the underside of the bridge in colours that shift and blend, adjusting to the constantly changing riverscape and its surroundings. Echoing the artwork on Millennium Bridge, the artist also explores a single line of light along its parapets.
Golden Jubilee Footbridges
Designed by Illuminated River architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, the twin Golden Jubilee Footbridges were added to Hungerford Railway Bridge in 2002 in honour of the Golden Jubilee of Elizabeth II. The pedestrian walkways are suspended via slender steel rods fanning from seven pairs of giant outward-leaning pylons.
Leo Villareal’s artwork matches the sleek and modern style of the design with subtle, monochromatic lighting. The lighting acts as a foil to that of Millennium Bridge, the other 21st century bridge in the artwork.
With the most spans of all the Thames bridges, the seven elliptical arches of the 1862 Westminster Bridge step between piers of grey granite. The structure was designed by engineer Thomas Page with Sir Charles Barry, the architect of the Houses of Parliament, consulting on decoration. The bridge’s Gothic Revival detailing references the Palace of Westminster and its ironwork is painted green in homage to House of Commons benches.
Westminster Bridge sits next to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Palace of Westminster and is a Grade II listed structure. Leo Villareal’s light sequencing is a subtle addition, honouring the historically significant design and gently washing the underside of the bridge with soft green hues to mirror the green benches of the House of Commons.
Dating from 1932, Lambeth Bridge is a five-span steel arch structure resting on reinforced concrete piers and abutments faced in Cornish granite. The design by architects Sir Reginald Blomfield and George Topham Forrest with engineer Sir George Humphreys includes distinctive paired obelisks at either footing. Each pier is adorned with a stone lighting column above a London County Council coat of arms flanked by dolphins.
Leo Villareal's artwork infuses the structure of Lambeth Bridge with a subtle red glow, mirroring the red accents of the bridge’s ironwork which, in turn, reflect the colour of the benches in the nearby debating chamber of the House of Lords.