Shortlist announced to light up river Thames and 17 London bridges

Illuminated River design teams include artists such as Glenn Ligon, Angela Bulloch, Philippe Parreno and Leo Villareal<br>

The Illuminated River initiative, the most ambitious public art project launched in decades in London, is moving forward with the unveiling today (7 November) of design masterplans for the Thames-based initiative from six shortlisted international teams.

Seventeen bridges, running from Albert Bridge in the west to Tower Bridge in central London, will be lit up under the scheme, as well as parts of the river’s banks. Two of the bridges are yet to be built, the Nine Elms to Pimlico crossing and the controversial Garden Bridge designed by Thomas Heatherwick. Illuminated River also received a funding boost with £10m pledged for the £20m initiative, with £5m from the philanthropists Peter Baldwin and Lisbet Rausing, through the Arcadia Fund, and £5m from the Rothschild Foundation.

No funding will be sought from the public purse, with corporate and philanthropic finance driving the scheme, says Hannah Rothschild, the chair of the Illuminated River foundation. “This [the Thames] is our liquid history and we must reclaim it,” she says.

The largest and most high-profile proposal, submitted by the London-based Adjaye Associates, involves a delegation of 31 members. “We have assembled a diverse team of international artists, each of whom have been charged with bringing to life the unique qualities of a single bridge,” says a statement from Adjaye Associates. These include Cai Guo-Qiang (Tower Bridge), Joana Vasconcelos (Waterloo Bridge) and Angela Bulloch (Westminster Bridge). Other artists include Doug Aitken, Glenn Ligon, Jeremy Deller and Philippe Parreno.  

Meanwhile, the US artist Leo Villareal, who created The Bay Lights installation on San Francisco’s Bay Bridge in 2013, is behind the masterplan submitted by the London-based architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands. Villareal’s plan, titled Current, “integrates light and colour… creating a sensitive and interactive site-specific interplay with the river”, according to a statement from the architects. The proposal includes working with artists Random International and a ferry boat operator.

The other proposals are: The Eternal Story of the River Thames (AL_A architecture); Synchronising the City, Its Natural and Urban Rhythms (Diller Scofidio + Renfro); A River Ain’t Too Much Light (Les Eclairagistes Associés); and Thames Nocturne (Sam Jacob Studio).

The six masterplans are on show in an exhibition at the Royal Festival Hall (until 29 November) and online: The winning team is to be announced on 8 December, with the first bridges due to be unveiled from 2018. Partners linked to the project include the Port of London Authority, the Corporation of London and the Greater London Authority.