1930s Washington Schoolhouse Transformed into a Modern Hotel
When we incorporate existing architecture into a new project, we preserve a slice of local history, culture, and character while eliminating a whole lot of construction waste in the process. Even a structure that seems to serve a hyper-specific purpose like a supermarket, factory, or water tower can be converted for a completely different sort of use.
A new hotel in Washington’s scenic Columbia River Gorge is a great example of a successful conversion blending a historically significant building with contemporary elements. For Society Hotel Bingen, Waechter Architecture took a beautiful 1930s wooden schoolhouse and used it as inspiration for the rustic modern look and feel of the entire hotel.
Lead architect Ben Waechter wanted to preserve the unique character of the schoolhouse, extending it to the rest of the 20,000-square-foot complex. Today, the wooden schoolhouse serves as a guest room with two hostel-style 24-bunk units and 10 private accommodations. Outside, an additional 30 detached cabins are clad in custom Radiata pine to mimic its appearance.
The cabins are arranged in a ring shape, all facing an inner courtyard, to create a buffer between the hotel and the residences that surround it. In the center stands a cedar-clad spa building with a sauna, hot tub, saltwater soaking pools, and cold-plunge pools. Its layout echoes that of the larger site, with smaller volumes surrounding a pool set beneath an open skylight.
Details throughout the Society Hotel Bingen pay tribute to the original building’s purpose, including long wooden tables illuminated by library lamps, natural slate chalkboards, schoolhouse radiators, and a lounge lined with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.
Located beside the Hood River about an hour from Portland, the hotel offers a “refined off-the-beaten path experience for travelers and getaway-seekers alike,” with each cabin boasting its own kitchenette, private seating area, hammock, and picnic table. The hotel is also in the process of restoring the school’s original gymnasium as an event, activity, and resettable meeting room space.
The Waechter team explains that their design “confronts conflicting contextual drivers, responding with a singular and iconic organization,” adding: “Located along the scenic Columbia River, the project’s site is near the waterfront, yet separated from it by a series of industrial facilities. In addition, it is in a residential area, requiring a sensitivity to the scale and privacy of its neighbors. Attempting to maximize the relationship of the hotel to its natural context while mitigating the industrial aspects of its surroundings, our concept became one of ‘Edited Panorama,’ using the massing of the new hotel to produce a series of distinct outward views.”
“While the project involves an adaptive reuse of an existing school, the primary site of [our] design intervention is a ring of cabins, sharing a single roof [and] defining a courtyard through which the town and landscape become framed. Within this ring, a community building provides additional shared spa amenities for the hotel’s visitors. Defined by four large piers, this central structure offers four key perspectives out through the courtyard and ring.”
The Society Hotel Bingen has a sister hotel in Portland’s historic Old Town Chinatown, simply called the Society Hotel. It, too, features reclaimed architecture, taking shape within a 19th-century cast-iron building that once housed sailors.