Winner Announced

The Illuminated River International Design Competition



The competition’s unique design challenge was to create an elegant and charismatic light art installation of world-class quality for London’s most celebrated bridges.

The Illumniated River

For more than two millennia, the River Thames was been integral to London’s evolution, shaping its communities and driving its economy. It continues to provide a huge source of pleasure for both Londoners and the nearly thirty million visitors drawn to London each year.

In daylight, the Thames speaks for itself, but on winter afternoons and at night it fades into a ribbon of darkness. London’s natural centrepiece becomes shadowy and obscure, inhibiting the atmosphere in many of the public spaces surrounding it.

Yet, with light as a medium for public art fascinating artists and audiences across the world, and with new lighting technology dramatically reducing energy consumption and making cities greener, London now has the opportunity to creatively reclaim the river after dark.

The Illuminated River Foundation will celebrate London’s famous river through one of the most ambitious public art initiatives in Europe in recent years. This will provide London with a new, free, permanent attraction, allowing the public to enjoy the river, all day-round, and all year. The project will act as an exemplar, encouraging engagement with the latest green technologies.

The funds for this circa £20m project will be raised, largely from private sources, by the Illuminated River Foundation, backed by the Rothschild Foundation. A broad coalition of public supporters and stakeholders includes the Mayor of London, amongst others.

Through the Illuminated River International Design Competition, the Foundation sought an inspired multi-disciplinary design team to create an elegant and charismatic light art installation of world-class quality for 17 of London’s most celebrated bridges – those between Albert and Tower.

For artists and lighting designers, engineers, architects and technologists and others, the project offered the rarest of opportunities – to influence the look, identity and experience of one of the world’s greatest cities.

The commission for the project will be awarded through this two-stage OJEU design competition. No design was required at the first stage.

The first stage of the selection process closed at 14.00 BST 7 July 2016. The shortlist of six teams was announced on 5 September 2016. The competition finalists were asked to conceive a design masterplan for the project, while providing a concept design for four specific bridges: Westminster, Waterloo, London and Chelsea that responds to their unique and individual characteristics. Concept designs were on display to the public at Royal Festival Hall in London throughout November 2016, and can be found online here.

In December 2016, the jury selected the team led by Leo Villareal and Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands as the winner of the competition. 


The competition jury encouraged fresh and interesting collaborations between artists, lighting designers, architects, engineers, technologists and others.

The Foundation sought an inspired multi-disciplinary creative team with artistic vision and lighting expertise to deliver this innovative and exciting project on time and without exceeding the budget.

The Brief covered architectural lighting (rather than operational lighting) and had two aspects. Firstly, a design masterplan for all 17 main road, rail and pedestrian bridges between Albert Bridge and Tower Bridge (including the proposed Nine Elms Bridge and Garden Bridge).

Secondly, a concept design lighting scheme addressing four individual bridges: Westminster, Waterloo, London and Chelsea and celebrating their unique qualities. These represent a sample of the bridge typologies within the overall masterplan.

An honorarium of £15,000 was awarded to each of the shortlisted teams following selection of the winner. 

The winning design team will be offered the commission to provide the detailed design of the full bridge installation (up to RIBA Stage 4) by the Foundation. The multiple bridge owners will assume responsibility for project delivery (with the selected design team retained to ensure design quality in delivery). The project will be phased with the first implementation phase expected to start in 2018 and the second in 2019-2020. 

Strategic priorities:

The design needs to:

  • Display outstanding aesthetic quality.
  • Show innovation and incorporate new, energy-saving, green technologies – and interactivity where possible.
  • Improve and enliven the atmosphere of the river after dark, increasing visitor dwell times in the area.
  • Be economic to install and maintain.
  • Show an awareness of the heritage significance of the bridges and their setting as well as engaging with contemporary themes.
  • Propose an approach for all the bridges while responding to the individual and unique characteristics of each bridge.

Practical and technical priorities:

The design needs to:

  • Create spectacle across the bridges for future events, such as national holidays, celebrations and memorials. To do this, the bridges should be controllable independently, within sub-groups or centrally (with prior agreement of the bridge owners).
  • Have an expected lifespan of 25 years.
  • Create a multi-level experience of the design as viewed by pedestrians on the bridges, from London’s riverbanks, from the air, from tall buildings and by river boat.
  • Address and respect the diverse natural environment and wildlife habitats in the river generally, and around the bridges specifically.
  • Be mindful of access over, and navigation under, the bridges.
  • Carefully consider proximity of residential development to the bridges.
  • Avoid creating pinch-points where visitors might crowd bridges.
  • Consider existing architectural lighting infrastructure – or places where operational and architectural lighting are the same (e.g. Millennium Bridge) – to avoid wasteful duplication and replacement, upgrading as appropriate.
  • Take account of public safety and accessibility, ensuring the appropriate technical, environmental and safety standards are met.
  • Require the least possible intrusion into the fabric of the structure; minimise the likelihood of vandalism; ensure ongoing maintainability without the need for difficult or onerous access arrangements.


  • Lord Rothschild, OM GBE

    Lord Rothschild, OM GBE

    Chairman of RIT Capital Partners plc, Chairman of the Rothschild Foundation

  • Hannah Rothschild

    Hannah Rothschild

    Chair, Illuminated River Foundation

  • Malcolm Reading

    Malcolm Reading

    Architect and Competition Director (Professional Chair)

  • Professor Ricky Burdett

    Professor Ricky Burdett

    Professor of Urban Studies and director of LSE Cities and the Urban Age Programme

  • Michael Craig-Martin

    Michael Craig-Martin

    Conceptual Artist

  • Lucy Musgrave

    Lucy Musgrave

    Director, Publica

  • Dame Julia Peyton-Jones DBE

    Dame Julia Peyton-Jones DBE

    Director, Serpentine Galleries, 1991–2016

  • Ralph Rugoff

    Ralph Rugoff

    Director, Hayward Gallery

  • Justine Simons OBE

    Justine Simons OBE

    Deputy Mayor for Culture and Creative Industries

  • James Turrell

    James Turrell

    Space and Light Artist (Honorary Jury Member) 



From 105 first-stage entries, six finalists were shortlisted and asked to produce concept designs for four specific bridges – Westminster, Waterloo, London and Chelsea – and a design masterplan for the 17 bridges within the scope of the project. These proposals, with a short description from each team, are below. They were on display at the Royal Festival Hall during November 2016, and the Illuminated River Foundation asked the public for their feedback.

  • Winner


    Leo Villareal with Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands and Future\Pace

  • Blurring Boundaries

    Blurring Boundaries

    Adjaye Associates

  • The Eternal Story of the River Thames

    The Eternal Story of the River Thames


  • Synchronizing the City: Its Natural and Urban Rhythms

    Synchronizing the City: Its Natural and Urban Rhythms

    Diller Scofidio + Renfro

  • A River Ain’t Too Much To Light

    A River Ain’t Too Much To Light

    Les Éclairagistes Associés (L.E.A.), ecqi ltd. and Federico Pietrella

  • Thames Nocturne 

    Thames Nocturne 

    Sam Jacob Studio and Simon Heijdens


Media enquiries

  • Regarding the Illuminated River Foundation:
    Jane Quinn, Bolton & Quinn
    [email protected]
    +44 (0)20 7221 5000

  • Regarding the competition:
    Catherine Reading
    [email protected]
    + 44 (0)20 7831 2998

Competition enquiries

Jayne Broomhall
[email protected]
+ 44 (0)20 7831 2998