Portland-based Waechter Architecture has released images of The Society Hotel Bingen, a new 20,000-square-foot lodging and recreational destination for visitors seeking a refined, off-the-beaten-trail experience in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
Initiated in 2017, Society Hotel Bingen consists of five distinct yet related components across a multifaceted 2.57-acre campus, including the adaptive reuse of a former school, twenty individual hotel cabins, a covered pathway, a spa and bathhouse building, and a sanctuary. Anchoring the retreat is the 80-year-old Bingen Schoolhouse, which was originally constructed in 1908, and was rebuilt in 1937 by the Civilian Conservation Corps after a fire in 1933.
Melding modern comfort with historical preservation, the schoolhouse hotel was retrofitted by Waechter Architecture to retain most of its original feel. Inside and out, Society Hotel Bingen features interiors and landscape design by BLOSSOM, the Portland-based firm founded by Megan Blossom.
Sited near the riverfront within a residential setting, the main schoolhouse building offers 10 private standard rooms and two 24-bed hostels, as well as a library in the reception area, lockers in the hallway and a refurbished gym open to guest use.
The floors are all original to the building and a combination of existing or salvaged from the former classrooms to get the entire lobby to match. Moving across the site to the school’s former playfields, Waechter Architecture’s primary design intervention involves a series of individual cabins that form a ring, loosely defining the edge of the site. Although each unit is detached on the ground, they are united through a shared roof that cantilevers out to double as a covered walkway while creating porches and a shared courtyard, accessible to both visitors and local residents.
At the center of the ring is a new spa and bathhouse building, which creates a central gather space with a shared saltwater soaking pool, sauna, hot tub, cold plunge and a café. The new structures are clad in premature aged cedar, with eight-inch tongue and groove knotty pine for the cabin interior headboard walls and troweled and sand finished concrete floors. “One of our primary goals was to design a hotel that not only felt connected to the Gorge but amplified people’s experience of it. It's exciting to stand within the hotel and cabins today and feel the complementary dialogue between the two,” says firm principal Ben Waechter. Waechter Architecture’s approach negotiates the context by maximizing the hotel’s relationship to the natural landscape and uses the massing of the new cabin ring to highlight the surrounding hillside and views over the river. With its connected roof, this ring acts as a frame, allowing views both between the cabins and upward to the sky and hills.
Visitors are presented with a double perspective - the close view of the courtyard’s garden and the far view o f the landscape - providing a sense of retreat, even in a town setting. At the same time, this new perimeter of cabins provides a clear delineation between the neighborhood and hotel, while maintaining a residential scale and avoiding a monolithic barrier between communities. The spa and bathhouse is a volumetric structure constructed of a similar material palette to the cabin ring with openings on each side to avoid having a singular entry point. On the interior, four large piers shape the collective space that dramatically expands upward to a large skylight, which washes light over a series of pools below.
The building also contains more private areas, including sauna, changing rooms, kitchen and massage rooms. Tucked in the corner of the property, the Sanctuary is a unique subterranean building that can be reserved for events and retreats or other groups of travelers for yoga, team-building activities or family gatherings. The space is flooded with natural light through a roof cupola and south-facing glass doors from the courtyard entry. Overall, the design’s connection between historic and contemporary, the foreground and the background heightens and experientially links the visitor experience, clearly achieving the goals of creating a place for people to experience the Columbia River Gorge in a unique yet respectful setting. “The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is one of the country’s natural gems, and we created The Society Hotel Bingen to be both a basecamp for exploring the region, plus a relaxing escape for those who want to rest, relax and recharge without leaving the property,” said Jessie Burke, one of the owners of The Society Hotel. “Since our opening in May, we’ve welcomed guests from around the region and country, and we’re thrilled with how deeply the property has resonated with everyone.”