Third Age of Light VR Experience

London, United Kingdom


Strategy + Branding

“What is public lighting for? How will we experience the urban realm after dark in the future?”

A unique experimental Virtual Reality experience will be installed at the Royal Society of the Arts in London from 28th March 2019. Created by renowned lighting design studio Speirs + Major the experience examines how London’s public realm might be experienced after dark in the near future.

Following a successful debut in Paris in November 2017, the content has been fully updated to respond to a number of questions as to how societal attitudes and emerging technologies might change our nightscape.

Visitors will able to explore three virtual areas of London in the near future – the South Bank, King’s Cross, and Primrose Hill. Specific themes within each area provide deeper insight into issues such as augmentation, networks, communities and the environment.

The experience can be accessed Monday – Friday 8:30am – 9:00pm via Rawthmells Coffee House, RSA House, 8 John Adam Street, London, WC2N 6EZ until 24th May 2019.

Mark Major RDI, Principal, Speirs + Major:

“We are delighted to be able to share our temporary VR experience, ‘Third Age of Light’, with the RSA. It was created as part of our ongoing education and outreach program: As designers working with light we challenged ourselves to speculate on how London may be illuminated in the near future. We believe that technologies and behaviours are emerging in the field of lighting that will impact the way we experience the public realm after dark in the future. The themes we explore aim to create awareness of these possibilities, allowing us to think ahead to the social, economic and environmental opportunities and challenges we may face. Our ideas are not necessarily offered as solutions, nor intended to be a comprehensive review, but we sincerely hope that our efforts will provide visitors with an enjoyable interactive experience that will provoke further thought and discussion.”

Third Age of Light

London in the near future: a city in which the experience of the night is focused and autonomous, yet variable and shared. A world immersed in media and light, but where darkness once again has a tangible role. This is the ‘Third Age of Light’.

In the ‘First Age’ we used naked flame in portable lanterns to create illumination. Technology was limited, and the glimmer of functional light barely punctuated the night.

The ‘Second Age’ saw the development of organised industrialised systems of gas and then electric public lighting. These ultimately resulted in a careless and wasteful use of light, leading to excessive energy use, light pollution and over-illumination, underpinned by a lack of respect for the qualities of the night.

Now imagine that, following improved understanding of our physical, psychological, biological, social and economic needs, the role of public light comes under scrutiny. Artificial light is re-elevated to a precious commodity, no longer taken for granted. A new generation of technologies and techniques begin to emerge as society looks for other ways to extend the day.

Welcome to the ‘Third Age of Light’.

In this ‘Third Age’, society has begun to question the role of public lighting. The social and economic benefits of artificial lighting have long been clear, and the environmental consequences have come into sharp focus. We are beginning to understand that the experience of London after dark can be different for each of us depending on our social grouping, gender and ethnicity. This, coupled with changes brought about by rapid advances in technology, has led to our re-evaluating the way we work, rest and play from dusk until dawn.

What will the role of public lighting be in this 24/7-world city? How will we fulfil the traditional requirements of keeping residents, workers, tourists and visitors safe and secure? How can we support the night-time economy, provide information, improve legibility, accessibility and way finding while also pursuing a more sustainable approach? Above all, how will developments in artificial intelligence, biotech, information technology and other forms of privately controlled illumination coalesce to change the character of the urban realm?

Let us envisage a potential ‘Third Age of Light’:

Advanced optical engineering and artificial intelligence now provide us with a fully integrated and augmented experience. People employing eyewear, contacts or implants enjoy full-spectrum customisable night vision. On any given night, they may choose to experience the city by ‘heritage gaslight’ - and the next as a ‘retro neon-lit’ world. Yet, the desire for freedom of choice suggests that people would look not only to augment but also to operate without ‘wearables’. They turn to alternative technologies to provide intelligent portable lighting devices in unlimited eclectic forms.

With the advent of this ‘night vision’ and increased personal illumination, many fundamental concepts of public lighting have become all but redundant. Street lighting is almost a thing of the past. Architectural and landscape lighting and lit media remain as the principle fixed layers, but are required to be self-sustaining and fully integrated into the built environment.

Luminous surfaces created by bioluminescence, nanotechnology and passive films create self-illuminated buildings, artworks and paving. Various species of bio-engineered plants, grasses, fungi and algae provide supplementary lighting without the need for electricity. External illumination has become both an adjunct to and an extension of interior light.

New ideas about how light is used impacts on everything from the night-time economy to inner city food production. Social awareness of the benefits of retained darkness and renewed respect for the natural qualities of the night have come to the fore. Environmentally protected ‘dark zones’ have been created to reduce light pollution and lessen the impact on urban ecology, offering privacy, visual silence and the return of starry skies to many areas of London.

The ‘Third Age of Light’ is a world in which we have harnessed technology to create new and exciting possibilities, alongside respect for darkness, the environment and well-being.

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