The Illuminated River

Blog — 05 May 2021

I can thoroughly recommend an evening stroll along the Thames discovering what is claimed will be the world’s longest public art commission. The project is funded by a group of patrons including Arcadia, the Rothschild, Blavatnic, and Reuben Family foundations.

The sequence of nine river crossings starting in the East at Tower Bridge and ending in the west at Vauxhall Bridge have been illuminated by US light artist Leo Villareal and Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands.

Each bridge is lit in a site-specific way highlighting its idiosyncrasies. LED kinetic installations subtly respond to their environment, or the traffic that the bridge carries. The effect is magical, the engineering and architecture of structures, that are functional objects by day, is transformed into things of beauty by night.

LED technology has come a long way in recent years, and each light panel is like an artist’s palette that Villareal mixes to produce subtle pastel shades as well as rich colour. He calls it painting with light, something that he achieves beautifully.

Very often lighting buildings is gaudy and flash, unnecessary and unflattering. This is a beautiful work of art that is free for all to see and most importantly is not badged with a sponsor’s name.

Our walk started at Blackfriars Bridge and ended at Tower Bridge and was booked through the City of London Guides programme.