Ambitious project to transform central London’s bridges is backed by Rothschild family and city’s mayor
A new charity spearheaded by Hannah Rothschild, the award-winning author who is chair of the National Gallery’s board of trustees, plans to transform central London’s many bridges with the help of artists working in collaboration with engineers. Illuminated River, a £20m scheme, was launched last week, backed by the new Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan—his first endorsement of an ambitious cultural project.
An international design competition has begun to find a team capable of taking on the great task that could ultimately include 18 Thames river crossings, two of which are yet to be built.
With a brief to make the most of the stretch of river from the Pool of London to Chelsea Embankment using light and water, the project seems tailor-made for a team such as Studio Olafur Eliasson. “It’s open to all, but [Eliasson] certainly knows about it,” Rothschild says, adding that the spirit of the competition is egalitarian and international. She hopes young artists as well as established ones will submit expressions of interest by the deadline of 7 July.
Rothschild reveals that the idea to improve London’s riverscape originated with a proposal by her father, Jacob Rothschild, that the US artist James Turrell create a light work on the Thames by Somerset House, when the former government building opened as a cultural complex in 2000. The scheme proved prohibitively expensive. Since then, the cost of ambitious lighting schemes has become more affordable. Also, the 2012 London Olympics showed how the capital “can work together”, she says. No less than 47 different bodies administer aspects of the Thames in central London and will need to be consulted.
The shortlisted schemes in the Illuminated River International Design Competition are due to go on show at the end of the year, after which as winner will be announced. The jury includes Hannah and Jacob Rothschild as well as Ralph Rugoff, the director of the Hayward Gallery on London’s South Bank. The competition is funded by the Rothschild Foundation and the Mayor of London’s office. The City of London has promised £500,000 towards the realisation of the project at a later stage. The majority of the projected £20m is due to be raised from private sponsors and foundations.