There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about building with wood, much of it infused with a certain back-to-the-land, eco-idealism. Not without reason: Wood can be sustainably harvested and easily recycled, and it sequesters carbon, the primary atmospheric agent behind man-made climate change. Especially in a place like Portland, Oregon—Stumptown, as it’s been known since the mid-19th century.

In a city long-famed for its environmentally friendly political culture it seems only natural to turn to timber, and for local firm Lever Architects, working with the material has helped bring its energy-efficient projects to national attention. But for founding principal Thomas Robinson, there’s another advantage to lumber construction. “For us it’s really about creating a rich experience,” the architect says. “Materials are the medium for creating that.”

Robinson was interested in materiality and its experiential potential well before he settled in the Pacific Northwest. A native of Santa Barbara, California, the architect is a product of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, and passed through three major offices before starting his own, beginning in Europe with master builder Peter Zumthor, then moving on to Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron and American outfit Allied Works.

At Herzog, Robinson served as senior architect on San Francisco’s de Young Museum; the building’s perforated steel facade, notes Robinson, was intended to produce the effect of “dappled light under a tree,” a case of an innovative building technique utilized to largely atmospheric ends. The move toward wood, Robinson says, is an extension of the same philosophy: “The trick,” he says, “is connecting to this or that resource, and then using it elegantly and intelligently.”

Since launching his practice in 2009, Robinson has been a driving force in finding new moods and modes for working in wood on both the regional and national levels. At the recently completed L’Angolo Estate Winery in Oregon’s Yamhill County, Lever fashioned a kind of modified residential envelope—an A-frame-like ranch house, or a ranch-y A-frame, depending on how you look at it—out of cedar and Douglas fir, topped with aluminum cladding and plonked down rather casually in the sylvan landscape. “We were interested in the question, ‘What is architecture for this new region?’” Unlike the wine country of Northern California, where a stylistic struggle between historical and contemporary impulses has been playing out for decades, the Pacific Northwest is largely a tabula rasa for designers; Robinson and company appear to be inveighing on behalf of a local architectural identity that is at once pastoral and sophisticated, grounded in an unselfconscious organicism. That the building wears its ecological credentials so blithely hardly makes them any less impressive: The winery was literally homegrown, all the wood having been sourced in-state.

From Surface Magazine: