The design of gas stations is mostly stripped down to that required for bare function. The inextricable relationship of the aesthetics of modernism to that of the automobile begs a different approach, one that fulfills the traditional function of a gas station but also reflects shifting movements within design. Just like the cars that have driven up to utilize them, these gas stations represent design principles contemporary to the time in which they were constructed.
Imagining the Future
In Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision of the future, Broadacre City, the gas station was seen as a place that was integral to the development of the decentralized city. In his vision, the gas station would be a community gathering space of “significant” design. A second story meeting room in this gas station aspired to become a node of activity centered around the common-day task of refueling.
Nun’s Island Service Station / Mies van der Rohe 1968
The development of Nun’s Island in Montreal provided several commissions to Mies van der Rohe. There, he built several apartment buildings and this gas station. The pure miesian language of steel and glass relates perfectly to its industrial use and also provides a degree of transparency against the backdrop of its forested surroundings. The function of this building is true to its machine-like form. Currently, the structure is undergoing renovation after being closed for a number of years.
Gas Station / Jean Prouvé
Ideas of portability and prefabrication are present in this project. Prouve created a lightweight gas station that anticipated the process its deployment, and deconstruction—envisioning its use at multiple locations. This sustainable approach foreshadowed similar ideas in architecture.
Repsol-Service Station / Foster + Partners 1996-1997
This prefab gas station system by Foster + Partners is deployed in a similar way to the everyday gas station. The module (replicating hypar geometries in steel) it is replicated across multiple locations. The system can adapt to each site by being implemented at multiple densities, heights, and colors while still preserving a similar character. This lightweight construction learns from the strategies tested by Prouvé with on a greater scale.
Greening Black Gold
Helios House / Office dA
The first LEED certified gas station in the US, the BP Helios House incorporates a myriad of sustainable practices to minimize energy consumption within the station. Formerly a conventional gas station, a recyclable faceted steel skin was attached to the existing canopy. Within this skin, runoff is funneled into cisterns minimizing the gas station’s impact on the surrounding area. Solar panels sit on the roof offsetting the station’s energy consumption.
When gas stations have truly been designed they have been markers of forward thinking contemporary ideas in design. With shifting models of energy production in the pipeline for vehicles, it will be interesting how design will intersect with these new models of energy distribution.