Project | ‘Designing for our Future Selves’, Design Museum, London

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The 21st century is shaping up to be a century of centenarians, with more of us living longer and healthier lives. A new exhibition at the Design Museum, ‘Designing for our Future Selves’ explores the role of design in healthy ageing.

In collaboration with light and health consultant, Dr Shelley James, we have contributed a small installation - 'Light Cycle' - that explores and explains the importance of natural circadian rhythms of light and darkness on our health, well-being and the ageing process. It invites the viewer to enjoy an immersive, accelerated journey through the life-affirming day-night or ‘circadian’ cycle, bathed in the shifting light and sounds of the sun’s perceived passage around the earth.

The dynamic cycle of natural light - sunlight, moonlight and starlight - throughout each twenty-four hour period drives every cell in our bodies. The neural pathways that track that shift first fire up in the initial weeks of life in the womb.


Thereafter our bodies are not simply influenced by light. Our biology is controlled by it. Daily rhythms can positively influence everything from our mood to our sleep patterns.


Likewise the fragmentation and faltering amplitude of that clock-like pattern can also provide the warning signs of depression, cognitive decline and neurodegenerative disease, particularly in later years. 


Research has shown that we share this compelling timekeeping cue of bright days and dark nights and the length of the day across the seasons with millions of other living creatures, as every keen gardener or birdwatcher will know.

The average home-office or kitchen is rarely bright enough during the day to sustain our natural rhythms. Conversely we often use more light than is good for us in the late evening, with our eyes often focused on an over-bright screen projecting light into our eyes that is heavy in the blue end of the spectrum.


At night, many of us sleep with a light on or with an active phone, tablet or laptop nearby. That additional unwanted glow has the effect of extending twilight until it merges with the dawn when the cycle begins again. 


So we lock ourselves into contracted work, school and leisure hours from one season to the next. Year in. Year out. But rarely conscious of our lit environment.


We are only now just beginning to understand the far-reaching havoc that this blind disconnect with the rhythms of natural light and darkness is wreaking on every dimension of our bodies and brains - and the impact that our use of artificial light in the wrong amount, in the wrong place and at the wrong time is also having on the fragile ecologies with which we share the planet. 


A sharp rise in myopia, obesity, learning difficulties, diabetes, and dementia are just a few of the conditions that can be exacerbated by ignoring our natural circadian rhythms. The World Health Organisation has classified disruption to the vital day-night cycle as a probable carcinogen.

The installation is connected to a wider study we are working on together with Clarion55, a national resident group of over 55's led by Clarion Futures, part of Clarion Housing Group, which explores how residential lighting for people aged 55+ could be improved for better health and wellbeing outcomes, through the next generation of ‘circadian’ lighting design that reflects the dynamic qualities of the natural world.

Free entry. Located in the atrium of The Design Museum, from 24th of February until 26th of March.