City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

Many design-led refurbs work from the outside-in, buffing up an exterior and often letting the interior take care of itself. Particularly in the faintly macho world of road-side service stations. The scene of Alan Partridge’s lonely forays into the Norfolk night, searching for company and a hot apple pie, springs to mind. Yet news of an alternative approach reaches us from, where else, Sweden.

Preem Petroleum operates a retail petrol and convenience-store offer throughout Sweden, and the petrol business being as it is, had been struggling to make a profit on petrol alone. So it decided to accentuate the convenience store side of the business, switching the traditional functional hierarchy upside-down. Landor Associates consulted on the design and branding, and in line with the refocusing of the business, decided to think about the female customer in particular. From Landor’s site:

"The solution separates “carbohydrates from hydrocarbons” through the use of colour and transforms the experiences that make the biggest differences for women — the petrol station forecourts and c-stores. Forecourts are more brightly lit, food is fresher and healthier and toilet facilities were redesigned to be the best petrol station toilets, bar none."

You can compare some before and after shots on the Landor site (although there is the slightly unfair lighting comparison that often accompanies such shots, akin to those hair-loss adverts in newspapers), But the new forecourts look vastly more appealing – I like the ‘epaulette’ lit signs – and are likely to feel safer, in addition to the improvement in the services they contain. Of course, these changes benefit male customers too, just as other aspects of the service station will benefit the female driver.

Preem forecourt

Preem pumps

I’ve often argued the need for higher-quality service stations (referenced obliquely back in 2002), though I was thinking more of Saarinen-esque sweeping curves, skyline silhouette signs, 10-mile-Spiral-style forms which re-engage the lost romance of grand touring, within a fun palace of ubiquitous wifi, well-stocked library + great retail, fantastic food and coffee, sauna, Yotel-style cabins &c. A bit like the Kanku lounge at Osaka airport, which is replete with manga and DVD library, showers, rooms for massage, small cubicles with portable entertainment centres, and so on. (I snapped the Kanku sign here, shortly after almost drenching my luggage in the slightly malevolent electronic showers.) But also something which engaged with the shape of automobile travel, as airports from JFK to Hong Kong to Bilbao engage with the shape of air travel.

Chep Lap Kok sketch by Foster

This line of thought was reinforced when I happened to pop into RIBA on the work today and stole a look at the excellent Asmara exhibition there, eyes eventually resting on the lovely Fiat Tagliero service station, by Giuseppe Petazzi in 1938 (see during and after restoration). This looks to have been inspired by air travel, as with all good futurist architecture, but what a statement of optimism. They also had a model of a smaller AGIP service station, akin to this Shell one below. (I’m going back to that exhibition for sure, so it might reappear here shortly.)

Fiat Tagliero service station

Asmara filling station

Preem’s new stations aren’t quite as radical and beautiful as the Fiat Tagliero of 70 years previous, and of course the sensitivities and strategies of building around cars has changed considerably during that time – see the work of, say, Terreform’s Mitchell Joachim for possible ways forward for cars, cities and people.

But these Preem stations are a progressive step forward. And unlike Asmara’s handsome ruins, which now exist largely as architectural tourism, they’re doing the business. The two pilot sites report a 30% increase in turnover and a 20% increase in customer numbers (Landor note a 28.8% increase in fuel volume and a 146.1% increase in fresh food sold) and Preem have now decided to refit 37 further sites.

In other toilet-related-refit news, see also recent decision by ANA to fit their 787 Dreamliners with the magical TOTO washlets. Having quietly enjoyed the benefits of the TOTO experience on a recent trip to Japan, your correspondent can confirm that this would also appear to be a very smart business decision.

ANA 787

[Preem news via Chris Rickwood – thanks!]


2 responses to “Petrol stations and toilets”

  1. Ben Avatar

    How much of the success of these stations is reliant upon being placed in nice open locations like the one in the first shot.
    You know, rather than squeezed inbetween a Tesco Metro and some luxury apartments?


  2. Nicklas Avatar

    Ben: good question, but it’s very hard to answer. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a gas station squeezed in here, even in cities it’s lots of open spaces around them. The proximity to other gas stations though is probably a bigger problem.


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