The World's Longest Public Artwork

A new vision for the Thames bridges

Illuminated River by Paul CrawleyIlluminated River

Illuminated River (2019-09-23/2019-09-23) by James NewtonIlluminated River

The vision

Illuminated River is the first artistic and cohesive vision for the central Thames bridges, celebrating them as architectural, social and historical landmarks, and creating a symbolic link across the capital. At 3.2 miles in length, it is the longest public art commission in the world. Free and publicly accessible for all to enjoy, Illuminated River transforms the experience of the city at night, and defines the bridges as renewed civic spaces for Londoners.

Illuminated River (2019-07-17) by Neil HawkinsIlluminated River

Conceived by American artist Leo Villareal and British architectural practice Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, and delivered by the Illuminated River Foundation, the artwork has been sensitively developed, paying attention to heritage, wildlife and the built environment to create something exceptional - a transformation that celebrates the role that the Thames bridges play in the enduring global identity of London and encourages people to enjoy the river and riverside at night.

Leo Villareal, Illuminated River (2019-07-13/2019-07-13) by James NewtonIlluminated River

Painting with light

For Illuminated River, Leo Villareal has worked with cutting edge LED technology to 'paint with light', producing sequenced patterns that subtly unfold across the Thames bridge structures. He has engaged with the site of each bridge, respecting and revealing their unique architectural features and historic identities, while referencing the river as a continuous living system.

The Bay Lights (2019-10-18) by Leo Villareal StudioIlluminated River


Villareal joins a long tradition of artists who have been inspired by the Thames. Programming his artwork on site, Villareal's light compositions mimic the ever-changing movement of the river, using shifting hues drawn from the London sky during sunset and in moonlight. He has taken inspiration from the natural and social activity of the Thames, barges and boats moving cargo and people, the traffic surrounding the bridges, and the ebb and flow of the tides. Translating this atmosphere using custom created software, Villareal's patterns are organic and ever-evolving, never repeating or resolving into a single image. As a light artist, Villareal often works with architecture (The Bay Lights on San Francisco's Bay Bridge, Multiverse at Washington's National Gallery of Art), seeking to invigorate structures without overwhelming them.

Abseilers on Millennium Bridge (2019) by Illuminated RiverIlluminated River


The realisation of Illuminated River has involved a unique collaboration of London's creative talent, statutory bodies and local communities, leaving a lasting legacy for the capital in the form of a dynamic public artwork. The artwork is the result of one of the most detailed and extensive pan-London planning processes the capital has ever seen involving five different bridge owners and spanning seven boroughs. It has been developed in consultation and collaboration with over 50 organisations on and around the river, and seven local authorities from whom 30 planning permissions and 18 listed building consents have been granted.

Illuminated River by Paul CrawleyIlluminated River

Illuminated River by Paul CrawleyIlluminated River


Our bespoke encapsulation systems (protective netting) enable abseiling teams to install Illuminated River directly above live river traffic.

Millennium Bridge - Illuminated River (2019-07-17) by Neil HawkinsIlluminated River

Londoners and the Thames

London's status as an international capital with a vibrant night-time economy is reflected in the scale of this project, which invigorates and supports the existing nightlife of central London around the Thames. Illuminated River enriches the experience of travelling along and across the river at night, at street level, on foot and by boat, and encourages Londoners and visitors to use the river - currently the city's most under-used artery - as a means of transport as commuting tends to decrease after dark.

Illuminated River Viewing Figures (2021-03-29/2021-03-29)Illuminated River

How many people will see the artwork?

Over 90 million people will see the artwork during its 10-year lifespan. Illuminated River's broad programme of public events and activities is designed to further engage communities and visitors with the heritage and ecology of the Thames and its historically important riverside public realm. Events are wide-ranging in scope, including educational talks, walking tours, boat tours and musical concerts.

Credits: Story

Videography by Paul Crawley ©

Video score composed by Tom Arnold, Nicol Shnur and Josh Curtis. Performed by Guildhall Session Orchestra, Guildhall School of Music & Drama.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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