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Competition: The Illuminated River, London


An international design competition has been launched for an ambitious £20 million light installation covering all 17 central London bridges (Deadline: 7 July)

Backed by the Rothschild Foundation, the Illuminated River contest seeks ‘elegant and charismatic’ proposals to reinvent the Thames at night.

Planned for phased completion between 2018 and 2020, the privately-funded project will transform 17 road, rail and pedestrian crossings between Albert Bridge in Chelsea and Tower Bridge near the City of London.

Open to multidisciplinary teams of architects, artists, designers and engineers, the two-stage competition is organised by Malcolm Reading Consultants on behalf of the Rothschilds’ Illuminated River Foundation.

Hannah Rothschild, chair of the foundation, said: ‘Even by London’s standards, this project is unprecedented in boldness and imagination: the opportunity to influence and transform the look, identity and experience of the world’s greatest city.

She continued: ‘We’re looking for the finest artists, architects, designers, engineers, technologists and specialists to work together to help realise this exciting ambition. Collaborators can be from different disciplines with varying degrees of experience.

‘What matters is bold and innovative thinking to put the art back into London’s greatest artery.’

Participants must submit details of their multidisciplinary team and examples of previous experience during the competition’s first stage.

Up to five shortlisted teams – set to be announced this summer – will then draw up conceptual proposals for Westminster (pictured below), Waterloo, London and Chelsea bridges, plus a masterplan for the entire project.



Source: Image by Luke Hayes / Malcolm Reading Consultants

Westminster Bridge

The winner of the £2.5 million design contract will be announced in December following a public exhibition of the designs, with the other finalists each receiving a £15,000 honorarium.

The chosen team will develop the scheme up to RIBA Stage 4 and win planning permission with the project thereafter expected to be transferred to the individual bridge owners.

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 competition comes almost four years after OMA’s Rothschild Bank headquarters – overlooking Mansion House and the Bank of England – was shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize.

Judges include Rothschild foundation chair Jacob Rothschild, London School of Economics urban studies professor Ricky Burdett and City Hall head of culture Ralph Rugoff.

Supporting stakeholders include the mayor of London Sadiq Khan, the City of London, Westminster City Council, Transport for London, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and Network Rail.

How to apply


2pm local time on 7 July

Contact details

Jayne Broomhall
Malcolm Reading Consultants
10 Ely Place

Tel: + 44 (0)20 7831 2998

Visit the competition website for more information



Map of central London bridges

Sheikh Zayed Bridge case study: Q&A with Zaha Hadid Architects

Zaha Hadid Architects discusses lessons learned designing the illuminated Sheikh Zayed Bridge in the capital of the United Arab Emirates

How did your Sheikh Zayed Bridge project integrate lighting to help create a new landmark for Abu Dhabi?

The lighting designers illuminated the sinusoidal waveform of the bridge structure with an alternating gradient and colour to emphasise the fluid, structural silhouette. The deck’s underside is also illuminated with an alternating pattern emphasising the deck’s structure and creating a continually changing lighting display that reflects the water’s surface below. Angled lighting posts along the deck play a crucial role in continuing the bridge’s architectural language as well as the public’s crossing experience, while directly illuminating the road’s surface.

Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi

Source: Image by Hufton + Crow

Sheikh Zayed Bridge by Zaha Hadid Architects

Which strategies ensure collaboration within multidisciplinary design teams on bridge projects such as this one?

With any successful collaboration, there is an inherent commitment from all disciplines within the team to deliver high-quality design through dialogue, collaboration and research into innovative solutions; balancing the ambitions of the brief with the practical realities; and collaborating to build upon its members’ ideas and solutions, through frequent discussions and design workshops with all stakeholders.

What considerations might be important for multidisciplinary teams designing a public art strategy for bridges?

The combination of strong local and international experience within the project team helps to ensure a successful design, where all local constraints are understood and fulfilled and international standards and experiences are applied to successfully develop the design. The dialogue and exchange of ideas between all team members allows collective knowledge and expertise to complement each other.

Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi

Source: Image by Hufton + Crow

Sheikh Zayed Bridge by Zaha Hadid Architects

Infinity Bridge case study: Q&A with Tim Hurstwyn

The associate director at Expedition Engineering discusses his experience designing a new illuminated crossing in Stockton-on-Tees, UK

Expedition Engineering

How did the Infinity Bridge project use lighting to help revitalise Stockton-on-Tees?

To be a beacon at the heart of the local regeneration, the bridge had to be seen both day and night. The lighting, along with the structure, was a step beyond what was found in the immediate vicinity and pointed to new, re-energised use of the area. But beyond this the playful, dynamic lighting scheme that changes as people cross the bridge helped cement it in the hearts of the locals, giving them something they were proud of and something they could use as a springboard to wider regeneration.



Infinity Bridge by Spence Associates and Expedition Engineering

How do you ensure collaboration within multidisciplinary design teams on bridge projects?

The answer is always by building relationships early in the design process between all the design team. In this case I had the honour to work closely with Jonathan Speirs and his team at Speirs + Major in Edinburgh. In early design sessions I’d be offering them lighting suggestions and in return they were offering structural suggestions… we’d all be interacting in physical experimentation and sharing a passion for what the project as a whole could achieve.

What considerations might be important for teams designing a public-art lighting strategy for an existing bridge?

One of the key lessons I learnt from Jonathan was that for lighting to work well, it needs darkness to contrast against. To achieve this in an existing setting requires careful placement of luminaires and that’s where problems can occur. A truly great lighting scheme will not only look good from a distance but also while on the bridge, and the luminaires and associated cabling are integrated into the existing structure in such a way that they are easily maintainable, and do not detract from the form of the bridge during daylight hours. Understanding this at the outset will avoid awkward design compromise later down the line.



Source: Image by Morley von Sternberg

Infinity Bridge by Spence Associates and Expedition Engineering