Team led by US artist Leo Villareal wins design competition to light up London’s Thames

The ambitious Illuminated River initiative will be interactive and eco-friendly

by Gareth Harris  |  8 December 2016
Team led by US artist Leo Villareal wins design competition to light up London’s Thames
A computer-generated image of The Illuminated River (Image: © Leo Villareal and Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands)
The US artist Leo Villareal will light up London’s bridges after winning the design competition for the Illuminated River initiative, an ambitious Thames-based public art project.

Seventeen bridges, running from Albert Bridge in the west to Tower Bridge in central London, will be lit up under the scheme, as well as parts of the river’s banks (two of the bridges are yet to be built, the Nine Elms to Pimlico crossing and the controversial Garden Bridge designed by Thomas Heatherwick).

A delegation led by Villareal and the London-based architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands beat off competition from five other shortlisted international entries, including London-based Adjaye Associates and Diller Scofidio + Renfro of New York.

The winning team will begin developing the design concept—titled Current—next year, “creating a sensitive and interactive site-specific interplay with the river” in collaboration with stakeholders such as the Port of London authority, according to a statement.

The proposal includes working with Future Pace, the organisation co-founded by Pace Gallery’s Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst and Mark Davy, the director of Futurecity, a London-based multidisciplinary culture agency. According to its website, Future Pace specialises in “making large-scale work in an urban setting”, challenging “traditional notions of public art”.

“Our aim is for a lighting masterplan which reduces pollution and wasted energy, is sensitive to history and ecology, and subtly rebalances the ambient lighting on the river to provide a beautiful night time experience for residents and visitors,” Villareal says in a statement. In 2013, he created The Bay Lights installation on San Francisco’s Bay Bridge.

More than £10m has been pledged for the £20m Illuminated River initiative, with £5m from the philanthropists Peter Baldwin and Lisbet Rausing, through the Arcadia Fund, and £5m from the Rothschild Foundation. No funding will be sought from the public purse.  

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