Illuminated River

Ed Vaizey

© Shutterstock

There has never been a better reason for taking a walk along the Thames - and it’s free and open!

Waterloo to Lambeth bridges for Illuminated River © Jason Hawkes

llluminated River is a long-term art installation transforming the Thames at night with an orchestrated series of light works that span nine bridges in central London. Its subtly moving sequences of LED light symbolically unify the Thames bridges, drawing inspiration from the spirit and history of the river and from the architectural and engineering heritage of its bridges.

© Shutterstock

Blackfriars, Waterloo, Westminster, Golden Jubilee Footbridge, Lambeth, London, Cannon Street Railway, Southwark and Millennium bridges are all part of an ambitious art project that is transforming the Thames.

Conceived by New York based artist Leo Villareal in collaboration with London based architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands following a public competition, site specific artworks show a subtle display of slowly moving lights sequences along the Thames.

Westminster Bridge for Illuminated River ©James Newton

Villareal’s vision is apparent the moment you wander down to the river. Here he has created a unified series of evocative lighting installations that reflect each bridge’s cultural and historical context, drawing on other artist’s visions of the Thames, most notably Monet and Whistler. The historic warm-hued columns that remain from the original railways bridge at Blackfriars Road Bridge have inspired the gentle combination of rose colours across its arches. A monochromatic scheme across the Golden Jubilee Footbridges mirrors Villareal’s approach to the other pedestrian bridge in the artwork, the Millennium Bridge.

Golden Jubilee, Westminster and Lambeth bridges for Illuminated River © Paul Crawley

Westminster and Lambeth Bridge bookend the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Palace of Westminster. Referencing the nearby benches of the debating chamber of the House of Comms, the unexpected (and often overlooked) details latticework undercroft of Westminster Bridge is illuminated in a soft green. Lambeth Bridge has a red flow in a nod to the benches of the House of Lords’ chamber as well as mirroring the red accents of the bridge’s railings and arches.

Lambeth Bridge for Illuminated River ©Paul Crawley

The vision for this philanthropically funded project has been made possible almost exclusively by four main benefactors – Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, the Blavatnik Family Foundation, the Reuben Foundation and the Rothschild Foundation, with the support of the Mayor of London. Over the past five years, and despite all the challenges caused by the pandemic, the Illuminated River Foundation, led by director Sarah Gaventa, has managed to complete this bold project on time, and on budget – an impressive feat.

There is also a network of more than fifty stakeholders and project partners, including seven London boroughs, Transport for London and Network rail, as well as organisations such as Historic England, the London Wildlife Trust and the RNLI.


Completed Illuminated River artwork on Blackfriars, Waterloo, Golden Jubilee, Westminster and Lambeth bridges. Videography: Paul Crawley.

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