The artwork is part of the final stage of Illuminated River, a philanthropically funded installation created by internationally renowned artist Leo Villareal, that will light nine of the Thames river bridges by March. When it is completed, it will be the longest public artwork in the world at 3.2 miles. As ‘bookends’ to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Palace of Westminster, the two bridges (Westminster Bridge of 1862 and Lambeth Bridge of 1932) occupy sites of deep significance to the constitutional history of Britain, as well as being important symbols of British architectural and engineering heritage in their own right.
Since 1970, Westminster and Lambeth bridges have celebrated Britain’s two-chamber political system in the colours of their paintwork, reflecting their respective proximities to the upper and lower houses of Parliament.
The Illuminated River artwork will refine and enhance this theme. The latticework undercrofts of Westminster Bridge will be illuminated in soft green tones referencing the benches of the debating chamber of the House of Commons, whilst the red glow to adorn Lambeth Bridge is a nod to the benches of the House of Lords’ chamber, and mirrors the red accents of the bridge’s railings and arches.
Westminster and Lambeth are part of five bridges being illuminated in March, joined by Blackfriars Road, Waterloo and Golden Jubilee. The first four Illuminated River bridges – London, Cannon Street, Southwark and Millennium – made their debut in 2019.
Commenting on the launch, Chair of The Illuminated River Foundation, Lord Neil Mendoza, whose Baronetcy of King’s Reach encompasses the stretch of the river between London and Westminster Bridge, said: “The illumination of Westminster and Lambeth bridges brings a fresh new spirit and atmosphere to the political centre of London that will transform this part of the Thames as we begin, gradually, to ease out of the challenges of the last twelve months.
“Illuminated River is an incredibly complex project that provides excellent public realm infrastructure to London, using the latest, and most environmentally-friendly, technology to light the Thames bridges at night.
“The project was completed on time despite the difficulties of COVID-19 and funded, almost in its entirety, by philanthropists. It is an extraordinary collaboration between private enterprise and dozens of public organisations and stakeholders. Hopefully it will encourage philanthropists to bring beautiful, new creative projects to towns and cities outside of the capital too.”
A significant programme of engagement, involvement and education has been developed to bring the joy and beauty of the Illuminated River to local communities, and, as lockdown eventually lifts, to visitors from all over the nation and around the globe.
Prior to the most recent lockdown, NHS staff from Guy’s & St. Thomas’s hospital, among others, were given free guided walks to see the first four bridges.