A transformation of the river Thames after dark has been promised, with the launch of a new design competition.
Illuminated River will aim to find a team to deliver a permanent lighting attraction along the river between Albert and Tower bridges, creating “an elegant and charismatic light art installation” for the 17 cross-river structures.
A co-ordinating charity, the Illuminated River Foundation, has been created to push the project forward, with backing from the Rothschild Foundation. A number of stakeholders have lent their support, including the mayor, City of London and boroughs Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea, as well as Transport for London and Network Rail. the foundation’s Hannah Rothschild commented: “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.
“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.”
The project has set out six key aims. These include creating a world first in public art, with “the world’s longest, free, permanent outdoor river gallery”, and enhancing London’s position as a supporter of global art. There is the aspiration for the project to be sustainable, and add to the Olympic legacy. Support for the night time economy is also a consideration, “to breathe new life into the Thames after dark”; while the competition backers also hope for a groundbreaking public-private sector partnership.
A first round of submissions will need to be entered by 7 July, after which shortlisted teams will be required to work up their ideas in more detail. A competition jury is headed by Lord Rothschild, and includes Justine Simons, head of culture at City Hall, director of the Hayward Gallery Ralph Rugoff, professor of urban studies at the LSE professor Ricky Burdett, and Lucy Musgrave, director of consultants Publica.
The aim is to announce finalists in late summer, and announce an outright winner in December 2016. With the relevant permissions secured during 2017, the aim is to have the project live and working by 2020.
LPA Perspective: This is a big idea, and could yet run into all sorts of problems. But from the start, it is privately backed and doesn’t seem to be screaming for public subsidy of the order that the Garden Bridge project has done.
In addition, an executed scheme could help London rediscover the river and make much more of it. Some progress has been made in recent years – riverboats are now part of the London public transport infrastructure, for example – but much more could be achieved.
However, there are plenty of obstacles along the way; the bright idea to have a floating linear park along the river, in time for the Olympics, was shot down by jobsworths from port authorities and others, who saw only problems, not challenges to be overcome. Here’s hoping the Illuminated River gets to fruition.