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Lighting revolution shows its colours at London show

Words:
Stephen Cousins

Third Age of Light at the RSA by Speirs + Major reveals eye implants, drone swarms and, strangely, more areas of darkness in its look at the future

The virtual reality experience imagines a near future nightscape in three areas of London.
The virtual reality experience imagines a near future nightscape in three areas of London. Credit: Spiers+ Major

Advanced technologies and techniques will transform the way cities are illuminated at night, expanding the opportunity for social, economic and aesthetic interventions, the creator of a new VR experience in London has revealed.

The Third Age of Light at the Royal Society of Arts invites visitors to put on a pair of VR goggles and experience how three areas of the city – at South Bank, King’s Cross and Primrose Hill – might look after dark in the near future.

Developed by lighting design studio Speirs + Major, the environments aim to showcase the impact of next generation tech like AI, drones, bio-luminesence, and smart city systems.

We could control light in response to the volume of people, or specific incidents that happen on the street

The urban dwellers of the near future could become active participants in how light is experienced. Customisable night vision tech, such as eye implants, would allow them to see the world differently based on various themes, such as 'heritage gaslight' or 'retro neon-lit'. The trend for wearables could extend to portable lighting devices that make conventional street lighting almost redundant.

Traditional screen displays on buildings may be replaced by luminous surfaces created by bioluminescence, nanotechnology and passive films. Speirs + Major director Mark Major told RIBAJ: ‘It’s already possible to Inkjet light emitting products onto materials, so we can imagine that in the future there will be a greater ability for surfaces to become self-illuminating, or illuminated using a very small provision of electricity. There will be a greater degree of integration of screen based technologies into other materials – rather than buy a media screen and stick it to a wall, a media facade will be more integrated with the building materials.’

  • Credit: Spiers+ Major
  • Credit: Spiers+ Major
  • Credit: Spiers+ Major
  • Credit: Spiers+ Major
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Bio-engineered plants that emit light are already close to market, and their preference for light in the red to blue spectrum could mean that streets in the future have a distinct purple hue.

The use of drones is nothing new, but as the cost and size of the technology reduces it may be possible to mobilise large programmable ‘swarms’ that can reconfigure light patterns for different uses. Intel recently demonstrated how its Shooting Star drones could be organised to provide lit effects.

According to Major, the lighting innovation with the greatest potential is invisible – the sophisticated underlying control system, which could exploit advanced sensors and algorithms. The movement of individual people has long been a trigger for lighting, but smart cities like London could soon use crowd-sensing based on the geolocation of smartphones.

  • Credit: Spiers+ Major
  • Credit: Spiers+ Major
  • Credit: Spiers+ Major
  • Credit: Spiers+ Major
  • Credit: Spiers+ Major
  • Credit: Spiers+ Major
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‘We could control light in response to the volume of people, or specific incidents that happen on the street,’ he says. ‘This type of technology is already in the process of being procured and installed in the UK and elsewhere.’

Rather than lighting streets with a uniform brightness, lights could be controlled with more subtlety, various colours and tones could be configured to create different atmospheres or to meet different operational demands.

Counter-intuitively, greater understanding of nighttime illumination could result in more darkness in cities. Environmentally protected 'dark zones' could be created to reduce light pollution and lessen the impact on urban ecology, whilst also offering privacy and visual silence to stressed out urban dwellers.


The Third Age of Light  VR experience, until 24 May 2019, Monday-Friday 8:30am-9:00pm via Rawthmells Coffee House, RSA House, 8 John Adam St, London WC2N 6EH

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