Leo Villareal Wins Design Competition to Light Up the Thames

Can art help London become a greener city?

Leo Villiareal. Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images.

The American light artist Leo Villareal has won a design competition to illuminate London’s Thames river. The artist’s winning proposal was submitted together with British architectural bureau Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands.

Aimed at finding innovative solutions to improve energy consumption and reduce the city’s carbon footprint, the Illuminated River Project invited international applicants to submit ideas to win a commission to light the 17 bridges between Albert Bridge in West London and the iconic Tower Bridge, as well as sections of the riverbank.

“By removing out of date and inefficient metal halide and fluorescent lamps still in use on some bridges and replacing them with the latest LED technology, energy consumption per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 reduces as much as 50 to 70 percent, resulting in significant cost reductions for the local authorities who own many of the bridges,” according to the Illuminated River Project website.

Villareal and Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands were selected ahead of a five other shortlisted entrants including the prominent London architect David Adjaye and New York’s Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

A rendering of Villareal's winning proposal. Photo: The Illuminated River.

A rendering of Villareal’s winning proposal. Photo: The Illuminated River.

Villareal, who previously created The Bay Lights, a monumental public art installation on San Francisco’s Bay Bridge, has conceived the project and will work together with Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands to put the plans into practice, while Future Pace, an organization co-founded by the Pace Gallery’s Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst, and the London multidisciplinary culture agency Futurecity, will curate the light show.

“I’m delighted and humbled by the fact that the jury went with an artistically-driven vision for the Illuminated River.” Villareal said in a statement.

“The whole team shares a belief in the power of large-scale public culture and art to enrich our cities…Our aim is for a lighting master plan 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.”

The Illuminated River Foundation has raised £10 million ($12.6 million) to fund Villareal’s ambitious project. Half has been pledged by philanthropists Peter Baldwin and Lisbet Rausing through the Arcadia Fund, and the other half is being given by the Rothschild Foundation.

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