Invisible light for the Schule am See

Primary and secondary school, Hard | AT

Is it magic? At first glance, no luminaires can be seen on the ceilings, but the low-key, elegantly designed learning spaces are perfectly lit. The new primary and secondary school in Vorarlberg’s market town of Hard is characterised not only by its innovative educational approach but also by the pioneering lighting solution developed by Baumschlager Hutter Partners, lighting designer Bartenbach GmbH and Zumtobel.

Three large classrooms, a kitchenette, a staffroom and two relaxation rooms are all centred around an open, multifunctional centre. Clear lines, bright white furnishings, sky blue curtains, sophisticated all-glass partitions, the warm colours of the parquet flooring and plenty of daylight create a friendly atmosphere. © Zumtobel

Schule am See. The name alone [Schule am See = "school by the lake"] makes you think of clear blue water, green meadows and panoramic vistas. And, indeed, the school complex with a large sports hall isn’t far from the lake shore. The new building, the work of architects Baumschlager Hutter Partners, is surrounded by large lawns with open-air sports facilities. While the comb-like shape of the building forms a strong “back” on the entrance side, the exterior space flows into the three inner courtyards on the lake side, broken up by open terraces. Boundaries become blurred. Transparency and openness are key – both in terms of design and the innovative educational approach.

The jointly run primary and secondary school is designed as a cluster school, as an open, flexible place to use, for all types of teaching, today and in the future. Each of the nine identical clusters is, to all intents and purposes, a small school in itself, consisting of three or four classes, each with two teachers. Within the classes, students in grades 1–3, 4–6 or 7–8 learn together. The younger children learn from the older children and vice versa, in changing teams in which everyone contributes according to their individual strengths.

An internal main hallway on the entrance side connects the clusters. During the day, the building gets plenty of daylight thanks to the floor-to-ceiling glass façade. © Zumtobel

An internal main hallway on the entrance side connects the clusters. During the day, the building gets plenty of daylight thanks to the floor-to-ceiling glass façade. At dusk and in darkness, LED light lines developed by Bartenbach GmbH and mounted in the top of the window elements provide a comparable lighting effect. From the main hallway, short access corridors lead into the clusters. Three large classrooms, a kitchenette, a staffroom and two relaxation rooms are all centred around an open, multifunctional centre. Clear lines, bright white furnishings, sky blue curtains, sophisticated all-glass partitions, the warm colours of the parquet flooring and plenty of daylight create a friendly atmosphere.

Just as in the inner courtyards, boundaries are blurred here, too. Despite the various kinds of available space, each cluster appears as a uniformly designed area in which there are no hierarchies, but many freedoms: the freedom to use the space as required by the class, the freedom to reconfigure the individual rooms and one day perhaps also the partition walls, and the freedom to teach and learn everywhere. The lighting solution developed especially for this project by Bartenbach GmbH and the architects, and implemented jointly with Zumtobel, contributes significantly to these freedoms being used. All the more mysterious is the fact that at first glance no luminaires can be seen.

Clear lines, bright white furnishings, sky blue curtains, sophisticated all-glass partitions, the warm colours of the parquet flooring and plenty of daylight create a friendly atmosphere. © Zumtobel

The secret? Ultra-streamlined, Pico LED light lines in tunableWhite. Integrated in a uniform grid exactly flush into the white exposed concrete ceiling, they initially look simply like structuring strips. Thanks to micro-faceted downlight technology and recessed LED light points with high gloss reflectors, they nevertheless enable optimum luminous efficacy and glare-free, almost invisible light. Customised daylight linking colour temperatures between 2,700 and 5,700 Kelvin are adapted to the biorhythms of teachers and pupils, thus improving well-being, attention and concentration. "Teachers and students often aren’t aware of what creates the unique atmosphere in our school", says head teacher Christian Grabher. "But it’s down to the successful interplay of architecture, lighting and interior design. And the learning spaces, which, thanks to the glass façade, the glass partitions and the invisible but powerful luminaires, are light and airy".

The new building, the work of architects Baumschlager Hutter Partners, is surrounded by large lawns with open-air sports facilities. © Zumtobel

Lastly, the Schule am See uses Zumtobel’s ONLITE CENTRAL eBox central emergency lighting system, including all safety and escape-sign luminaires. Using the general lighting as a safety luminaire significantly reduced the need for safety luminaires throughout the school building. This makes the ceilings look much less ‘busy’, both in the main hallway as well as in the clusters and the entire sports hall wing.

Pico LED tunableWhite plays an important role in supporting innovative ways of learning and the flexible use of space. The same applies to the architecture. No matter where the partition walls within the clusters will be positioned in future, the modular continuous-row luminaires that run from one side of the building to the other – across the partition walls – enable uniform lighting and individual control of all areas of the cluster. “But the new luminaire is also groundbreaking because it facilitates ‘upward’ evolution for future innovations and new areas of application, such as in the office, at airports, etc.”, says Bartenbach GmbH project manager Robert Müller. If the school is extended as planned in a few years’ time, the luminaire can easily be fitted with the LED technology that will have been developed in the meantime, while maintaining its appearance.

Using the general lighting as a safety luminaire significantly reduced the need for safety luminaires throughout the school building. © Zumtobel