Oyster River Middle School

Large-scale pendant ‘mobiles’ animate learning commons in New Hampshire middle school

When Oyster River Cooperative School District took on the construction of a new building for its 700-student middle school population, Lavallee Brensinger Architects was tasked with the new design. The 146,900 sq. ft. space is constructed over a very efficient four stories. A main floor multifunctional learning commons is at the heart of the school and opens up to three levels of classrooms.

“Every inch of the school was designed quite purposefully,” said Steve Laput, senior associate at Lavallee Brensinger Architects and project architect. "For example, the learning commons provides a student workspace and seating as an extension of the library, as well as cafeteria seating, a testing area, and community gathering at the start of each day.”

Because the expansive two-story learning commons is literally in the center of the school, it was vital that it not feel dark and cave-like. Illumination is provided by a series of Eureka Switch pendants, in addition to two skylights that bring natural daylight to the space.

Nine Switch luminaires are suspended across the second-level ceiling. Each features a series of five individual arms, 63” in length, that provide direct lighting down to the commons. Arms were rotated and adjusted during installation to create a random look.

With pendant heights of 11 feet and a white finish that pops against the dark blue ceiling, the large-scale fixtures activate the space.

“The Switch luminaires add a real sculptural quality,” Laput said. “In fact, it looks like mobiles hanging from the ceiling. They have a presence in that upper-level space and provide an additional level of interest.”

These upper levels are dedicated to small learning environments for each team. Second-floor windows wrap around the space; teachers and students can look down onto the commons from corridors or classrooms. Laput said that one of the great features of the Switch luminaires is that they look just as good when viewed from above, which he noted is quite unusual for most fixtures.

Each arm conceals a custom-designed LED module that provides high-quality general lighting down to the space. Students have appropriate levels of illumination to engage in various activities, including reading, project work, eating, relaxing, or attending school gatherings.

One of the cornerstones of the project was sustainability and energy efficiency. The school and site were designed to meet Net-Positive Energy criteria with a target for LEED Gold certification. To this end, the Switch luminaires are part of an Acuity nLight® Wired networked lighting controls platform for lighting comfort and energy efficiency.

Laput said the design team could not be happier with the Switch installation. He was onsite many times before the opening and commented that every newcomer walking into the space would stop and say, 'wow.' 

“These fixtures are pretty unusual for a school setting,” Laput said. “In my mind, the learning commons would just be a large room without them. Switch animates the space, making it an exciting place to be!”


Project Name: Oyster River Middle School

Location: Durham, New Hampshire, USA

Project completion: February 2022

Architect: Lavallee Brensinger Architects

Eureka Agent: Visible Light

Photographer: Shelly Harrison Photography

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