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Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands wins contest to light London bridges

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Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands (LDS) has won the Illuminated River design competition for a £20 million light installation covering all 17 central London bridges

The scheme, a collaboration with US light artist Leo Villareal, defeated rival bids led by David Adjaye, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Sam Jacob Studio, Lyon-based Les Éclairagistes Associés and Amanda Levete (AL_A), which received an honourable mention.

The winning scheme, Current, will deliver a slowly moving and colour-changing lighting scheme synchronised across all the bridges

The win comes 18 years after LDS completed east London’s Royal Victoria Dock Bridge and 13 years after the studio opened the Golden Jubilee Bridges in the West End. Villareal achieved international recognition for his Bay Lights project which temporarily lit up San Francisco’s Bay Bridge in 2013, and has now been reinstalled as a permanent fixture.

A total of 105 teams – nearly half of which were based overseas – entered the Malcolm Reading Consultants-organised contest to create a permanent light installation that will ‘breathe new life’ into the Thames.

The scheme aims to transform 17 road, rail and pedestrian crossings between Albert Bridge in Chelsea and Tower Bridge near the City of London. It is planned for phased completion between 2018 and 2020, and is backed by the Rothschild Foundation, which has donated £5 million to the project.

Villareal said: ‘The whole team shares a belief in the power of large-scale public culture and art to enrich our cities. We are deeply committed to this project. In order to nuance the concept design and create presence and legibility, we intend to take time to study the river in all its manifestations.

‘We want to listen to Londoners in developing the scheme to deliver at all levels of art and light, urban design and architecture, the environment and sustainability. Our aim is for a lighting masterplan which reduces pollution and wasted energy, is sensitive to history and ecology and subtly rebalances the ambient lighting on the river to provide a beautiful night-time experience for residents and visitors.’

Winner:  Leo Villareal with Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands [overview]


Winner: Leo Villareal with Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands [overview]

London mayor Sadiq Khan commented: ‘We saw an incredible response to this fascinating competition, showing that London continues to inspire creatives from around the globe, and is open to all.

‘There were some spectacular ideas, and I can’t wait to see the winning design light up the Thames. Huge congratulations to Leo Villareal and Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands on this fantastic achievement.’

Hannah Rothschild, chair of the Illuminated River Foundation, said: ‘Leo Villareal’s proven ability to paint with light, matched with Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands’ direct experience of building bridges over the Thames, was an irresistible and inspirational combination.

‘Their scheme is beautiful, ambitious and realisable but always considerate to the environment, lighting levels and energy conservation. The jury is convinced that the winning team will transform the centre of London while remaining true to the spirit and integrity of the Thames and its communities.’

In an AJ online poll, LDS’s proposal came fifth, receiving 7 per cent of readers’ votes. The poll was topped by AL_A (47 per cent) followed by Adjaye Associates (25 per cent), Sam Jacob Studio (11 per cent), and Diller Scofidio + Renfro (nine per cent). Les Éclairagistes Associés came last with 2 per cent.

Introduction: Current

The six shortlisted teams each received a £15,000 honorarium to draw up conceptual proposals for Westminster, Waterloo, London and Chelsea bridges, plus a masterplan for the entire project. Their concepts were exhibited inside the Royal Festival Hall last month and seen by more than 10,000 people.

Competition judges included Rothschild foundation chair Jacob Rothschild, Illuminated River Foundation chair Hannah Rothschild, LSE urban studies professor Ricky Burdett, artist Michael Craig-Martin, former Serpentine Galleries co-director Julia Peyton-Jones and City Hall head of culture Ralph Rugoff.

LDS will now 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 Illuminated River Foundation is an independent charity, set up to lead and fundraise for the project. The foundation is chaired by Hannah Rothschild with Sarah Gaventa as its director.

The project has already received £10 million of pledges to deliver the project, including £5 million from the Arcadia Fund, set up by Peter Baldwin and Lisbet Rausing, as well as the £5 million from the Rothschild Foundation.

Seed funding of £100,000 has been granted for The Illuminated River by the Greater London Authority, to support the process for the design competition, alongside funding of £250,000 from the Rothschild Foundation, and a contribution of £500,000 from the City of London Corporation towards the delivery of the first phase.

Supporting stakeholders of the project include the mayor of London, the City of London, Cross River Partnership, Historic England, London & Partners, Network Rail, Port of London Authority, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Southbank London, Tideway, Totally Thames, Thames Estuary Partnership, Transport for London and Westminster City Council.

The full shortlist

  • Blurring Boundaries by Adjaye Associates with Cai Guo-Qiang, Chris Ofili, Larry Bell, Jeremy Deller, Philippe Parreno, Richard Woods, Mariko Mori, Lorna Simpson, Teresita Fernández, Joana Vasconcelos, Angela Bulloch, Thukral & Tagra, Katharina Grosse, Glenn Ligon, Doug Aitken, Tomás Saraceno, onedotzero digital consultants, Plan A Consultants, DHA, Hurley Palmer Flatt, AKT II, AECOM, Arup, Sir Robert McAlpine, Tavernor Consultancy, DP9, Four Communications, Hayes Davidson digital visualisers, Bosch and iGuzzini
  • The Eternal Story of the River Thames by AL_A with Asif Kapadia, Simon Stephens, SEAM Design, Arup, GROSS. MAX., Mark Filip, Soundings and DP9
  • Synchronizing the City: Its Natural and Urban Rhythms by Diller Scofidio + Renfro with Oliver Beer, Arup, Copper Consultancy, L’Observatoire International, Penoyre & Prasad, Jennifer Tipton and Transsolar
  • Current by Leo Villareal with Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands and Future\Pace, Atelier Ten, Beckett Rankine, Bradley Hemmings, Core Five, Futurecity, Greenwich+Docklands International Festival, MBNA Thames Clippers, Montagu Evans, Pentagram, Price & Myers
  • A River Ain’t Too Much To Light by Les Éclairagistes Associés, ecqi and Federico Pietrella in association with GVA Lighting Europe Limited and ewo
  • Thames Nocturne’ by Sam Jacob Studio and Simon Heijdens with Studio Dekka, Daisy Froud, Elliott Wood, Jackson Coles and Professor John Tyrer
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