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“Fill’erup with Specialness!”

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This post is a collection of gas/petrol stations designed by famous architects. It’s not an original topic since the same theme is explored by a few slideshows and articles floating around the internet. Here’s one, for example. What interests me is that many of these articles and blogs excuse or apologise for the architect involved by saying that the gas station was probably designed by someone else in the office and that the design was probably just “signed off” by the architect. Now hold it just there!

This sustains the myth that creativity and functionality are incompatible, that creative architects don’t do functional, or that functional is not creative.


Here’s one attributed to Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1958 FLW was busy with the Guggenheim that was just about completed, and also on the Marin County Civic Center that he almost lived to see completed in 1960.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Lindholm Service Station, 1958

This gas station turned out to be the only part of Frank Lloyd Wright’s fanstastical Broadacre City designs that made it into reality. But did he actually design it? Or did he just sign it off? We will never know.

Or how about this ESSO one, attributed to Mies Van Der Rohe? Does it matter if he didn’t design it? Do we even care if he did? If he did, then it was probably his last completed building as he died the same year.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Montreal, 1969

Some sexy modern photography is keeping the dream alive over at archilovers!

The current Repsol petrol stations in Spain, designed by Foster + Partners, have that whimsy-tarted-up-as-high-tech feel that’s characteristic of the brand but I find it hard to believe The Great Man had anything to do with them. However, much as NF is central to the Foster+Partners brand, he’s not marketed by his people as some sort of creative genius. Verdict: Maybe he did. Maybe he didn’t. That’s just how architectural brands work.

Photo: zackds

When automobiles had just become affordable to rich people, “service” stations  did other things back then like check your oil and clean your windscreen. They were glamorous and objects for architectural expression as well. The Fiat Tagliero Building in Asmara, capital city of Eritrea, was designed by the Italian architect Giuseppe Pettazzi and completed in 1938. (Thanks W.) Why a petrol station should look like an aeroplane I don’t know, but Pettazzi wasn’t ashamed of designing one.

I don’t think Arne Jacobson would have been ashamed of this petrol station he designed in 1938, in Copenhagen.

Arne Jacobson, Petrol Station, Copenhagen, 1938

Bertrand Goldberg was very proud of this rather wonderful one in Chicago in 1938.

Bertrand Goldberg, Clark-Maple Gas Station, Chicago USA, 1938

1938 seems to have been a golden year for petrol station design. I’m surprised Buckminsater Fuller didn’t have a go. Oops – what’s this? Nope, doesn’t count.

Pseudo-misfit Albert Frey designed this gas station in Palm Springs in 1965.

Albert Frey, Tramway Gas Station, Palm Springs, USA, 1965

All in all, it seems that to take credit for designing a gas/petrol/service station the norm rather than the exception. It’s only when an architect or the keepers of his reputation try to sustain the myth of creativity that there seems to be a problem. I suspect this is because creativity of the artistic kind is the actual product being sold. It sells for more when it’s not compromised by function. It sells for more when there are no competing criteria by which success or failure can be judged.  

Whatever. I bet Atelier SAD in Slovakia are quite happy about the magazine coverage this one has received. (Thanks quellebellevue!)

Archpaper says this one was designed by Kanner Architects but I can’t find it on their website. (Don’t be shy, Kanner! It’s okay to design useful buildings, even if they are a bit retro and recalling L.A.’s happy days.)

Photo: Nicholads O.S. Marques

This one’s by Damilano Studio. They’re proud.

Photo: A. Martiradonna

This one’s by Johnston Marklee. L.A. again! It’s LEED certified.  (Thanks Azure!)

thanks c-monster! (

* * *

As far as I know, Antonio Gaudí never designed a petrol station. I hope I’m proved wrong.

Repsol Gas Station. Avinguda de Gaudí 6, Barcelona 08025, Spain. (Not attributed to Gaudí.)


  • says:

    The issue of attribution is an interesting one. Where does the “art” in art lie? In the concept? probably. Being the figurehead? possibly.
    The development? the production? the promotion? But we all know that many great works are collaborations. Foster isnt the sole source of genius in his office. He attracts many young stars each who collectively contribute under his guidance.
    Then there is the person respopnsible for its realisation. Bill Gates is sometime criticised. He didnt come up with all the ideas from scratch but he was the one who recognised the pieces, recognised how it could be used and got it to market. Einstein apparently did the same.
    For centuries the studios of great artists had underlings who did the bulk of the work with incredible skill and patience. The concept was (mostly) the artists but the great man (or woman) guided it, overswam the QA and put on the finishing touches (and signiture). I doubt Frank Gehry knows how to run the software, and some of his unnamed young guns add little pieces of genius, which the great man might adopt, use to develop or inspire something totally different.

    • Thanks Peter,

      I first thought of recent cases of attribution and the one that sprang to mind was the one that flared up again rather recently over whether it was Norman Foster or Ken Shuttleworth who really designed The Gherkin. Everybody watched with much amusement as their respective publicity and marketing departments slugged it out publicly (see here), before lamely and unconvincingly concluding it was “a team effort”.

      Most things are but, in architecture, attribution only seems to be a problem when people want to sustain a belief in Art and their subsequent belief that “artistic concepts” have a place in architecture. Pre-2000, when F+P’s Millennium Bridge was being hyped, there was much talk of a “classic” “‘pen-on-napkin” “concept sketch” of a single line drawn that NF drew to emphasise the comment/soundbite of “a blade of light” “shooting across The Thames” or some such.

      Authorship of The Millennium Bridge is now shared between Norman Foster (obviously), Anthony Caro (confusingly) and Arup (tellingly). To my knowledge, the sketch, if it ever existed, has never been made public.