First London bridges to get lighting makeover revealed

Leo Villareal's plans to ensure that his new lighting designs for London's river bridges are subtle. His design for the iconic Westminster Bridge sticks to the tradition of only lighting the underbelly of the bridge.

Leo Villareal, the winner of the Illuminated River competition to light 17 of London’s main river and rail bridges has said that he expects the first four bridges to be lit within the next two years.

Speaking at the Worshipful Company of Lightmongers annual lecture in Central London, Villareal announced that he expected London Bridge, the Millennium Bridge, Cannon Street Railway Bridge and Southwark Bridge to be the first structures to receive their lighting makeovers.

While in London, Villareal, who is a noted American light artist, has been completing a number of tests on London Bridge using LED.

‘This project is an amazing opportunity to bring cohesion to London’s river bridges in an elegant way,’ Villareal commented during the lecture.

‘Each bridge will have its own sequence, but it will form a part of a wider whole.’

While much of the plan for the project is still under development, Villareal has decided on the make-up of some of the schemes.

For example, Westminster Bridge will only be lit from the gently curving arches that make up its lower portion, according to tradition.

Meanwhile Chelsea Bridge, the only structure among the earmarked crossings that resembles a traditional suspension bridge, will be lit in a subtle fashion, the gentle ripple of the LED lights mirroring the tidal flow of the river.

‘A lot of London’s bridges just completely disappear into the darkness at night due to the lack of light schemes,’ Villareal commented.

We wouldn’t be able to do this project without LED,’ Villareal added. ‘We are trying to find the best equipment to bring these bridges to life and the best ways to maintain these materials once installed.

Leo Villareal - Light artist and winner of London's Illuminated River contest 

‘We have to strike a balance between activity and inactivity when it comes to the lighting, whilst preserving the mystery of these bridges.’

‘We wouldn’t be able to do this project without LED,’ Villareal added. ‘We are trying to find the best equipment to bring the bridges to life and the best ways to maintain these materials once installed.’

The continued maintenance of the installations once they are up and running will be quite a challenge, as the bridges fall under the responsibility of a number of different local authorities.

‘We are having conversations about the best ways to maintain the projects once they are completed,’ Villareal told the audience.

‘We want these projects to continue in the long run and we hope that the people of London will want them to be retained for the long-term.'

In a question and answer session at the end of his lecture Villareal batted away accusations that the project will only add to London’s already serious light pollution problem, whilst admitting that LED light art is sometimes overindulgent.

‘LEDs are too accessible and there are some bad examples of the use of LEDs,’ Villareal commented.

‘We want to make something in London that uses light with restraint, we want to use what is already there, but offer a subtle tweak.’

Villareal has form when it comes to producing LED light art for bridges. In 2013 he lit the Bay Bridge in San Francisco with 25,000 individual white LEDs along the structure’s 1.8 mile span.

Initially intended as a temporary installation the project, which is the largest LED art work ever developed, was re-installed as a permanent instillation in 2016 after a public campaign to ensure it was retained.

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