Illuminated River Foundation completes five more bridges along the Thames

On 13 April 2021, the new Iighting schemes on five bridges along the Thames were officially switched on. Blackfriars Road, Waterloo, Golden Jubilee, Westminster and Lambeth Bridges are the new additions to the “Illuminated River” project, which aims to illuminate 14 bridges in London (UK). The project, run by Illuminated River Foundation, a LUCI Associated member, is set to be the longest public art commission in the world!

For the first phase, the Illuminated River Foundation had inaugurated four bridges – London Bridge, Cannon Street, Southwark and Millennium Bridges – in Summer 2019. With a design team led by American light artist Leo Villareal and award-winning British architecture practice Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, Illuminated River pursues its work of reframing the Thames at night. According to the project’s website, the objective of Villareal is to “create a unified lighting concept to refocus attention on the Thames bridges, illuminating their separate identities while respecting the architecture and engineering of each structure.

For example, of the new bridges, Westminster and Lambeth Bridges act as ‘bookends’ to the Palace of Westminster, seat of the British Parliament. This role is reflected in their lighting schemes. Westminster Bridge is illuminated in soft green tones, which recall the benches of the House of Commons, the lower chamber of Parliament. A few miles up the river, the red colour chosen for Lambeth Bridge is a reference to the seats in the House of Lords, the higher chamber.

Other bridges have been illuminated based on their uses, with pedestrian accesses made welcoming with a warm white pulsating light, as seen on the Golden Jubilee Bridge. The illuminations designed by Mr. Villareal have a projected lifespan of ten years, but the Foundation hopes that they will be ultimately adopted by the city and made permanent.

A technological feat

The project has proven to be a technological and logistical feat. For once, the Covid-19 pandemic prevented Mr. Villareal from working on site: he programmed and set up the new lighting schemes on a computer, from a studio in New York City.

Furthermore, the project involves over 50 organisations on and around the river, including the Port of London Authority, Historic England, Cross River Partnership, and numerous entities from the private and non-profit sectors. Seven local authorities, including LUCI member City of London Corp., have granted 30 planning permissions and 18 listed building consents — a record for a single lighting project.

Indeed, the project has placed light at the heart of a collaboration between multiple stakeholders, hailing from diverse fields, professions, and disciplines. Upon completion, it will also bring together people from all over the world: it is estimated that 90 million people a year will see the nine-bridge artwork, which is, at 3.2 miles, the longest public art commission in the world.

More on the project (in video!):

Sarah Gaventa, the Director of the Foundation, presented this new phase of the project last December, during the Lyon Light Festival Forum 2020 (LLFF). Check it out!

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