The Illuminated River Project Brings the Thames to Modern Light

The Illuminated River is the worldwide competition to bring the Thames river, London’s pulsing, beating, historic heart, into its newest era of development. Combining the new public interest in the artistic and reinvigorating capacities of light installations, with the dawning realisation that the nocturnal life of London’s iconic bridges has gone too long overlooked, the brief for this competition was simple: using new technologies and an outstanding aesthetic attention to detail, devise lighting installations for the city’s 17 bridges.

Launched in June this year, the project has sifted through an application pool of 105 submissions from firm collaborations across the globe, whittling them down to a shortlist of just 6. The 73 artists, architects, designers, planners, and engineers from across the globe represented in these teams have collaboratively made this “likely to be the largest art project of its kind in the world”, according to City of London Corporation Policy Chairman Mark Boleat. The scope and scale of the proposed projects does not disappoint, each sensitive to the river both in terms of its geographical and historical role as a narrative, organic, pulsing heart of the UK’s iconic capital.

The winner will be announced on the 8th December; until then, individual projects can be seen online and in The Illuminated River’s Royal Festival Hall exhibition space. The Plus brings you the Illuminated River project finalists: one of these designs, coming to a river near you…

Blurring Boundaries

Adjaye Associates was in collaboration with a diverse cast of nationally renowned artists from Cai Guo-Quing to Angela Bulloch, brings us the team of 31 whose proposal “Blurring Boundaries” for the Illuminated River installation focuses on the Thames’ role in London’s cultural synergy. The bridges are re-imagined not as functional structures spanning a logistically inconvenient stretch of water, but rather as “the heart of London itself”, stitching together the two Northern and Southern halves of the city. 17 selected international artists entered into a combined dialogue through their unique proposals for each bridge along the river, alongside which will be a selection of unique ‘nodes’ encouraging a more dynamic relationship between city and city-goer.



The Eternal Story of the River Thames


Architecture firm AL_A brings a team of 9 whose proposal highlights the river as an organic, breathing, changeable organism at the heart of London, with ethereal glowing installations that pulse and throb both along the bridges and the river’s banks. Responding to and changing with the ebb and flow of the tide, the narrative storyline of London as told through the ever-present river is kept alive in this shifting installation.



Synchronizing the City: Its Natural and Urban Rhythms

This shortlisted proposal from Diller Scofidio + Renfro is aiming to get Londoners re-sensitised to the natural cycles and ring in a new era of urban collectivity.The group aims to spotlight to inhabitants the pulse of the circadian and tidal cycles, with each bridge slowly ‘filling’ with light as twilight descends on the city, terminating with nightfall each with a ‘night kiss’ – a powerful column of light directed up into the sky – the timing dependent on the bridge’s location in relation to the rotation of the earth.




From the creator of the iconic ‘Frisco Bay LightsLeo Villareal comes this submission, tying the 17 bridges together under a unified vision of pulsing colours that take their cues from the architectural shape of the bridge, and the nocturnal natural movements of the environment.



A River Ain’t Too Much To Light
Alongside a similarly environment-sensitive set of lighting installations, a particularly unique method for transcribing the city’s rich identity and heritage onto the project has been found by Les Éclairagistes Associés (L.E.A.) in the form of individual lamp posts. Each a faithful model of various artificial urban lights found across the world, these lampposts will be partially submerged at various points across the river. This provides a visual reference point both for the tides and for our cultural ties, demanding we note the rise and fall of the river on which London depends, and highlighting London as a site of cultural exchange.



The Thames Nocturne

For the Plus, this is a case of leaving our best pick until last. The installation from Sam Jacob Studio and Simon Heijdens proposes that “volumes of light” be projected out across the water; the movement of the bars making up this skeletal, ribboning fan will be determined by the rippling flow of the water’s surface, creating a unbroken digital halo-river hovering above the water’s surface, an architectural form “seeming to wax and wane as the tide rises and falls”.



The Illuminated River Exhibition Runs at Royal Festival Hall, Level 3 and 4 Blue Side, from 9th – 29th November 2016, 10am – 10pm daily. Free admission.