What is said to be the longest art installation in the world can be found in London and is the lighting up of the bridges across the Thames.

Illuminated River isn’t just floodlighting the bridges though, as the lights pulse and change over time to a pattern designed by the artist, Leo Villareal, working with British architecture practice Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands.

The end result is a long line of art from London Bridge to Lambeth Bridge. Illumination on the first four bridges was unveiled in 2019 and five more were completed earlier this year, in April 2021

Each of the bridges has been lit differently, in part as a consequence of them all being built differently, but also to reflect local areas. So the Millenium Bridge has thin strobes of light flitting across its thin structure, whereas the bridges on either side of Parliament are solidly glowing with Green and Red for the two Houses.

Lighting up the bridges wasn’t just a case of trying to make them look interesting at night, as there’s nature to think about, and it turns out many of the fishes in the Thames are nocturnal, so the lighting also had to be designed to minimise how deep it penetrates into the river to avoid disturbing the wildlife. The lights that used to floodlight the bridges in plain white were also left on all night, whereas the new lights are turned off at 2am.

It’s quite easy to take in the Illuminated River from the riverside, but the best way is to drift under the bridges on a boat, so either take a trip on a Thames Clipper boat, or there are dedicated boat tours taking in the bridges.

Save the startup seed funding from the City of London, the whole project has been funded by donations, including setting aside some funding if the lights are to be removed after their initial 10-year approval, or if the various bridge owners decide to retain them.

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4 comments
  1. Paul says:

    I went on this tour yesterday and it was unfortunately a little disappointing. About 90% of the seating of the boat was inside, meaning you would have to look at the bridges through the dark tinted windows. Alternatively you can be outside at the back of the boat but it was quite small and near the engines…so you had zero chance of being able to hear the tour guide through the speakers.
    So the choice was, sit inside and listen to the info, or go outside to actually see the bridges, but then miss all the info.

    It’s a shame they don’t have more open-aired boats for this tour.

  2. Gary says:

    Paul, sorry to hear about your tour. I was going to do the boat tour as well, it sounded great. But will pass based on your comments. Thank you for sharing them.

  3. David Armitage says:

    Same goes for me Paul – thanks for sharing. I was all ready to book, but won’t bother now.

  4. Ian Carpenter says:

    I am taking a walking tour of the first five bridges this coming Friday 29th October, about an hour and a half with insight into the history of the bridges, the local area , the artwork and the project itself. It is organised through Illuminated River and you can book via https://illuminatedriver.london/whatson/illuminated-river-walking-tour-from-london-to-millennium-bridges-22.
    You will definitely be able to hear me! and sorry to hear about your experience on the boat, I know that the comments will be acted on

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