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London, Cannon street, Southwark and Millennium bridges will become artworks in their own right for the next 10 years, being lit up by a series of LED lights.

Last night (17 July), four of the Thames’s most famous bridges were transformed with the launch of the first phase of Illuminated River – an ambitious new art commission for London that will eventually see up to 15 bridges lit along the Thames.

The first four bridges to be lit up are London, Cannon street, Southwark and Millennium. The light installations work in unison, with sequenced LED patterns subtly unfolding across each unique structure.

While the former lighting ran all night, from dusk to dawn, Illuminated River’s connected LED lighting from Signify will be switched off at 2am. This, in conjunction with new energy conserving technology, has helped make the bridge lighting scheme far more long-term and sustainable. The new artwork will be in place for at least 10 years.

The project is the result of an unparalleled collaboration between London-based and international creative talent, local authorities and partners.  Free to view, and accessible to all, Illuminated River is meant to be a symbol of London’s creativity, ambition and spirit.

The artwork celebrates the architecture and heritage of London’s historic bridges, and will encourage more people to enjoy the river and the riverside at night.  It is estimated that artwork for the first four bridges will be seen more than 60 million times each year by local Londoners and visitors alike.

Conceived by internationally-acclaimed American artist Leo Villareal, and British architectural practice Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, Illuminated River is a philanthropically-funded initiative supported by the Mayor of London and delivered by the Illuminated River Foundation.

Working with seven different local authorities, Illuminated River is the biggest single planning application ever made without an act of Parliament. It is the first time the Thames bridges have been cohesively and artistically lit. It’s a massive feat.

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Millennium Bridge is one of the first four installations to go live in London. Photo and lead image by James Newton

Once completed, Illuminated River will span from Albert Bridge in the west to Tower Bridge in the east. It will be the longest public art commission in the world at 2.5 miles in length, along 4.5 nautical miles of the River Thames, and will be viewed over a billion times during its 10-year lifespan.

Hannah Rothschild, who originated the idea of lighting the bridges and is a trustee of the Illuminated River Foundation supported the project throughout, said: “The river Thames is London’s liquid history and its beating heart and the bridges are the arteries connecting North, South, East and West. But at night these extraordinary structures, each with a unique history and style, evanesce into darkness and obscurity.

“This project, one of the world’s longest and most ambitious cultural commissions, will transform a snake of darkness into a ribbon of light, threading art through the heart of the city.”

Sadiq Khan, The Mayor of London said “From the Fourth Plinth to Art on the Underground, our city has a rich heritage of showcasing public art, and I am delighted that Illuminated River is bringing more free and accessible artwork to Londoners.

“The Thames has played a key role in the growth and development of our capital for centuries, and this unique artwork will help Londoners and visitors see it in a whole new way. The Illuminated River will celebrate the unique architecture and heritage of our bridges, showcase creativity, boost life at night and transform the way we think about the Thames.”

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