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Rothschild backs £20m contest to light London bridges

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An international design competition has been launched for an ambitious £20 million light installation covering all 17 central London bridges

Backed by the Rothschild Foundation, the Illuminated River contest seeks ‘elegant and charismatic’ proposals to reinvent the Thames at night.

Planned for phased completion between 2018 and 2020, the privately funded project will transform 17 road, rail and pedestrian crossings between Albert Bridge in Chelsea and Tower Bridge near the City of London.

Open to multidisciplinary teams of architects, artists, designers and engineers, the two-stage competition is organised by Malcolm Reading Consultants on behalf of the Rothschilds’ Illuminated River Foundation.

Hannah Rothschild, chair of the Illuminated River Foundation, said: ‘Even by London’s standards, this project is unprecedented in boldness and imagination: the opportunity to influence and transform the look, identity and experience of the world’s greatest city.

She continued: ‘We’re looking for the finest artists, architects, designers, engineers, technologists and specialists to work together to help realise this exciting ambition. Collaborators can be from different disciplines with varying degrees of experience.

‘What matters is bold and innovative thinking to put the art back into London’s greatest artery.’

Participants must submit details of their multidisciplinary team and examples of previous experience during the competition’s first stage.

Up to five shortlisted teams – set to be announced this summer – will then draw up conceptual proposals for Westminster, Waterloo, London and Chelsea bridges, plus a masterplan for the entire project.

A winner will be announced in December following an exhibition of the designs with the finalists each receiving a £15,000 honorarium.

The chosen team will develop the scheme up to RIBA Stage 4 and will be required to secure all relevant planning permissions during 2017.

Several of the central London crossings – including Chelsea Bridge, the Golden Jubilee Footbridges and London Bridge – already have lighting schemes, although there is currently no co-ordinated public art strategy for all of them.

The competition comes almost four years after OMA’s Rothschild Bank headquarters – overlooking Mansion House and the Bank of England – was shortlisted for the Stirling Prize.

Judges include Rothschild foundation chair Jacob Rothschild, LSE urban studies professor Ricky Burdett and City Hall head of culture Ralph Rugoff.

Supporting stakeholders of the project include the mayor of London Sadiq Khan, the City of London, Westminster City Council, Transport for London, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and Network Rail.

Khan said: ‘This is a really exciting opportunity to breathe new life through the heart of London each night in a new, permanent, fluid light art installation across the capital’s historic bridges. It will throw a spotlight on the river and its banks, and extend their daytime bustle and buzz into the darker hours, supporting London’s burgeoning night-time economy.’

He continued: ‘A dazzling, free outdoor art gallery, for Londoners and all of our visitors to enjoy would encourage new investment and promote our great city to the rest of the world. With the right design, we can remind the world that London continues to be the global leader in innovation, sustainability and artistic creativity.’

The deadline for applications is 7 July.

How to apply

Visit the competition website for more information

Q&A with Hannah Rothschild

Hannah Rothschild Image by Harry Cory Wright

Hannah Rothschild Image by Harry Cory Wright

Where did the idea to illuminate central London’s iconic bridges come from?

It dates back to the turn of the century, when my father, Jacob Rothschild, developed a proposal with US artist James Turrell to create a light work on the Thames by Somerset House. But it came alive again after London hosted the Olympics in 2012, where the opening ceremony – notably the part along the Thames – demonstrated how the city could work together to achieve ambitious projects like this one.

What will a large-scale privately funded public realm project such as this say about the successes of London in the twenty first century?

It will say that London is a confident and creative city that backs bold cultural interventions of this kind - there is an appetite for large scale artistic initiatives and all the benefits they bring. This is another opportunity to demonstrate how well the public and private sectors can work together to achieve these ambitious projects.

How will judges ensure the winning scheme is a welcome addition across such a large area of London’s river-scape?

As well as working closely with the Mayor of London, we’ve developed the project through consultation and collaboration with the public bodies responsible for the bridges and the river. They will continue to be involved in selection panels as part of the competition process. There will also be an opportunity for the public to comment when the shortlisted designs are exhibited in November, and this too will inform the Jury.

What sort of architectural practices are you hoping will participate?

We expect some of the large practices will be interested, international as well as UK based, but we really encourage the concept of collaboration that is at the heart of the project and would like to see them reaching out to smaller firms and undiscovered firms. We also expect teams will be multi-disciplinary, so practices will likely need to draw not just on architects, but also light artists, lighting engineers and technologists.

Which other public art lighting projects have you been impressed by

The Bay Lights in San Francisco has been a really extraordinary success on so many levels. As art; in terms of public response (they’ve made it permanent due to public demand); and for the economic benefits it has delivered for the regional economy. In the UK we have seen fascinating light art such as The Weather Project at Tate Modern. At Waddesdon Manor we have had inspiring light art installations in the winter season in recent years, and we’ve also had a wonderful son-et-lumiere designed which has brought the Manor to life in a really striking way. Artichoke started something extraordinary with London Lumiere earlier this year that will put London on the map for light art festivals alongside places like Lyon, who hold the Fete des Lumiere, and Sydney with their Vivid festival.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Oh. Because London doesn't already light every single one of its landmarks at night. Maybe the best lighting strategy would be to switch off the lights ?

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