Artist Leo Villareal and architecture firm Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands (LDS) have won the Illuminated River International Design Competition to permanently light up London’s River Thames with their concept ‘Current’, which they will begin work on in 2017. Announced by the mayor of London Sadiq Khan, their winning design was selected from six nominations, whittled down from 105 entries across 20 countries.
The Illuminated River is more than a lighting project for some of London’s key bridges, it is an opportunity to improve the wider public realm around the bridges, enhancing their links with the surrounding networks of streets to create a more pleasant, safer and walkable environment. One that will encourage the public to visit the river more often to enjoy and engage with the many activities around it.
It is also an opportunity to address issues of increasing lighting pollution and energy consumption in the city. Many of the bridges have lighting that needs updating, as they have accumulated a variety of lighting elements over the years, some of which create glare and light spillage. By replacing these elements with more subtle lamps and by removing excessive fittings, we can strip back and reveal the architectural beauty of the bridges.
Many of the schemes on the shortlist anticipate that by removing out of date and inefficient metal halide and fluorescent lamps still in use on some bridges and replacing them with the latest LED technology, energy consumption per bridge could be reduced by as much as 50 – 70 %, resulting in significant cost reductions for the local authorities who own many of the bridges. The use of newer, longer lasting technologies, means lamps will not need replacing for many years, thereby reducing long term maintenance costs too.
This is an ideal moment to be refocussing attention on the river and improving its relationship with Londoners and its connectivity to the rest of our city. For a long time London turned its back on the Thames and it was very hard for the public to access its riverbanks and walk alongside it. Over the last decade London has refocussed cultural activity and leisure by the river again, particularly with the resurgence of the South Bank, and with major new infrastructure projects such as Thames Tideway about to create new public spaces on the very foreshore of the Thames, the Illuminated River will link with other initiatives in an holistic approach.
Importantly, just because the Illuminated River seeks to celebrate light doesn’t mean that we don’t appreciate the darkness too. The winning concept will need to be flexible so it can be adapted or turned off in the early hours or specific times of year, in sections of the river where residents may be affected, or to respect the migratory, feeding or breeding habits of the fauna of the river, or to celebrate darkness itself. And it will complement and work with other ideas to celebrate key moments and events in the city.