LIT Workshop fabricated sleek lodge poles to complement the city’s heritage.
When Starwood Properties began to reimagine a new living room concept for the W Seattle, the existing first floor space featured a disconnected bar, restaurant, and lounge area, much like the traditional layout of a formal home. Portland, Oregon–based architecture firm Skylab Architecture was charged with knocking down the visual barriers for an open floor plan that resembled a more modern, casual living space.
Several preexisting columns could not be removed for structural reasons, so a truly open plan had to be amended. “In some ways you could see them as a negative, or they could be seen as a positive,” Skylab principal Brent Grubb told AN. “We try to turn those perceived negatives into a design element and make it unique.” Researching the city’s cultural and maritime history inspired the architecture team to combine the water-worn patina of shore-front pilings with the physical mass of wooden totem poles. The solution was a parametrically streamlined form that was fabricated in modular sections for swift installation.A nine-coat painting process achieved a water-aged patina. (courtesy Skylab Architecture)
The team designed seven different variations on a crescent shape that rotates and stacks to create unique profiles: round, recessed, and beaked. Depending on the stacking pattern, the lodge poles provide downlighting or uplighting, or exist as a solid mass. Because the sections had to accommodate wiring, Skylab worked with their local fabricator, LIT Workshop, to find a solution for an open interior to the column casing that relayed the weight and size of solid wood poles.
Similar to a boat’s construction, furniture-grade plywood was CNC milled from an interior radius to form ribs. The ribs were then wrapped with a kerfed core substrate, over which a walnut veneer was applied. Due to the irregular curves of each piece geometrically even cutouts would not suffice. LIT modeled at least two article parts in SolidWorks as a visual reference that was refined according to feedback from both the architects and the fabricator. Each section was clear coated and embellished with a nine-coat paint process to mimic the ombre appearance of waterlogged pier pilings.
According to Jon Hoppman, Director of Manufacturing for LIT Workshop, CNC routers were instrumental in fabricating the framework of the lodge pole sections. “Due to the size and scale of the elements, as well as the process of installation, the sections were required to be produced and repeated under tight tolerances,” he explained. An extensive period of research, design, and prototyping—that included the development of a proprietary fastening system—resulted in an installation period of approximately one week.
The resulting columns blend into the W Seattle’s surroundings like bespoke furniture components, at a fraction of the time and cost of traditional crafting techniques. “At once, they’re heavy and permanent, but also light and eroding,” said Skylab’s Grubb. “Technology tells us you can really do something customized with an economy.”