Waechter Architecture’s Society Hotel Bingen frames the Pacific Northwest

Picture Perfect

Nestled within the Washington State side of the Columbia River Gorge since 1908, the Bingen Schoolhouse has had many lives. It is now home to half of the Society Hotel’s second outpost thanks to a renovation helmed by Portland, Oregon–based Waechter Architecture, which also designed additions that house guest rooms, a spa, and more.

The central therapy and cold plunge pools are set into hand-troweled, sand-finished concrete flooring installed beneath a vaulted spa ceiling wrapped in cedar. (Micah Cruver)

Portland-based design studio Blossom created the meandering landscape scheme for the interior courtyard. (Micah Cruver)

With a residential neighborhood immediately surrounding the plot and industrial facilities farther beyond, the subtle negotiations between privacy and exposure were a major challenge for the architects. “With the site constraints and opportunities as well as with the specifics of the program desires and requirements, we developed the idea of the edited panorama,” said founder and principal Ben Waechter. The designers took a sculptural approach, carving programmatic areas out of refined, faceted masses, all of which are clad in board-and-batten cedar inspired by the simple material palette of the schoolhouse.

Blossom also helmed the interior design of both the schoolhouse and the new campus, which includes hotel rooms, dormitories, a lobby, and a library-like cafe and lounge. (Sean O’Connor)

Guests can camp out inside the renovated schoolhouse with intimate tiered bunks equipped with privacy curtains, storage cubbies, and reading lights. A central ladder connects each cluster of twin beds. (Sean O’Connor)

Twenty individual cabins radiate across the field, tethered together by a roof that joins them into a hexagonal ring. The roof cantilevers into the central courtyard, providing a covered walkway around the perimeter of the campus while framing views of the surrounding gorge. This organization buffers the hotel from the community while producing intimate outdoor pockets for each unit that look over the countryside. “There was an idea of creating a strong threshold in passing through the ring—not simply passing through a wall plane but passing through this thickness,” Waechter added.

Private outdoor spaces with modest furnishings for each cabin were achieved by placing the entrances on the side, as opposed to the front, of the unit. These pockets frame the expansive views of the surrounding landscape and provide a threshold into the interior courtyard. (Micah Cruver)

The courtyard also contains a freestanding spa. A juice bar, sauna, therapy rooms, and changing rooms are embedded in the four legs of this open-air pavilion, which are equipped with folding doors to enclose or extend the spaces across seasons. These private areas as well as three offset soaking pools are wrapped in the same cedar cladding to provide a unified transition from the outside to the interior. A central skylight cut from the folding roofline offers another lens on the environment.

For Waechter, the power of these moves is in their nearly photographic ability to “connect with the foreground, block the middle ground, and take in the longer view.” The result is picture perfect.

Header image: The new hotel was built on the playing field of the former Bingen Schoolhouse. Waechter used a LifeTime finish to prematurely age the cedar cladding to complement the historic building. (Sean O’Connor)