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Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands’ plan to light up Thames bridges wins first approvals

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Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands and US artist Leo Villareal have won the first set of planning approvals for their £20 million art project to light up bridges along the River Thames 

The City of London has given the Illuminated River Foundation the go-ahead to create the artwork across six bridges: London Bridge, Southwark Bridge, Cannon Street Railway Bridge, the Millennium Bridge, and both the vehicle and rail bridge at Blackfriars.

The 2.5-mile-long light artwork is planned to operate across 15 bridges in all, becoming the longest public art commission in the world, and will comprise of a colour-changing lighting scheme synchronised across crossings running from Albert Bridge to Tower Bridge.

Architect Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands and Villareal’s scheme was picked as the winning entry in an international competition organised by Malcolm Reading Consultants in 2016.

A report to the City of London’s planning committee said the lighting system would be restricted to the sides and undersides of the bridges.

It read: ‘The lighting design will be specific to each bridge, respecting and revealing their distinctive histories and architectural features, while the kinetic motion of the lighting across the 15 bridges would create a coherent art installation that references the river as a continuous living system.’

The original plan involved 17 bridges, but was recalculated to take into account the scrapping of the proposed Garden Bridge and another at Nine Elms which is yet to be built. 

Villareal, known for his Bay Lights project which temporarily lit up San Francisco’s Bay Bridge in 2013 before being reinstalled permanently, said the light colours were inspired by the work of ‘the Impressionist masters who painted the Thames’.

Their design beat rival bids from 105 practices across the world, including David Adjaye, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Sam Jacob Studio, Lyon-based Les Éclairagistes Associés and Amanda Levete (AL_A). 

The Illuminated River Foundation is backed by the Rothschild Foundation, which has donated £5 million to the project, as well as the Arcadia Fund.

The City of London’s decisions are the first approvals from the 30 applications lodged with riverside authorities for the project.

With the exception of the two Blackfriars bridges, the applications will also require ratification of Southwark Council, which is still considering the applications.

The artwork will be installed in phases, with the first four – London, Cannon Street, Southwark and the Millennium bridges – being lit up in spring 2019. The project is due to be complete in 2022.

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