Since they are such common, highly visible landmarks, there is no reason that the architecture of service stations shouldn’t be a feature. Although they sometimes offer areas for dining and breaking one’s trip, they are generally highly standardized and appear almost identical, one only distinguishable from the next because of their corporate colours or, in the case of independent operators, the absence of them. But this standardization isn’t the result of some advanced architectural or customer service concept. The approach taken in designing these structures is generally more about creating featureless cages for staff, pumping bays, repetitive metal canopies and bathrooms that all comply with regulations but fail to add any form of unique personality. And this occurs even at the expense of creating brand recognition for the service station or company, which is a key factor in business growth. In fact, the supply of fuel is simply regarded as a ‘necessity’ for which customers will inevitably materialise.
This reasoning might appear flawless from the perspective of a minimum commitment of resources. However, at a time when customers need to be won over, it may be useful to pay more attention to design considerations – to look for basic ways and means to make service stations both efficient and distinctive. It would also be worthwhile to consider environmental concerns, in particular as regards the impacts on the setting of such commonplace constructions. Quality architectural design has the potential to add aesthetic (as well as functional) value to our roadsides, which are presently so cluttered with anonymous buildings. We could even return to experimenting with the architecture of this structure, which, in the past, came to symbolize modernity and personal mobility as key elements of industrialized societies. This is a structure that merits closer attention – particularly during periods of architectural rationalism and when the focus is on modernity.
The design by DamilanoStudioArchitects for ‘Gazoline’, a service station situated in a suburb of the Italian town of Cuneo, not only has a unique form, but also enhances the importance of the service station as a place for breaking one’s trip. With its clearly defined architectural and functional characteristics, the design is complex and rich, both functionally and in what it expresses. It is a place that gives drivers a reason to stop.
The key idea behind the building was to create a continuous form – a concrete ribbon that symbolizes the movement of travel, a dynamic and fluid shape that flows along the ground in the same way that the high-fluidity concrete used to build it must have flowed through the special formwork used. The inclined structures, the curving walls, the curved overhang of the roof that connects the restaurant and bar areas to the office area, and the rounded links between the structures, roof and slab all underscore the dynamism of the design. Continuous glazed walls with aluminium frames close off the ribbon of the building to the north and south, following the curves of the joins in the exterior walls and adding a touch of elegance and distinction to the design. Sun-shading in aluminium pipe profiles on sliding tracks on the glazed walls provide protection from the sun and privacy for the interiors, while also contributing to the distinctive image of Gazoline as a construction that isn’t immediately recognizable as a place that sells fuel.
In other words, the building contributes to the roadside landscape. This is not just some uninviting place where drivers stop for the shortest time possible, but is a place that offers a range of comforts. This is expressed through the architecture and the interior spaces. With the coloured divide across its ceiling, lighting from a variety of different lamps, and natural lighting, the bar/restaurant area is a pleasant environment. The separate offices have forms typical of offices. The centrally positioned toilet block separates the restaurant from the office area. Outside, the continuous concrete band of the building tapers towards the ground on the western side, connecting with the office block. A large sheet metal sign in red, which is illuminated at night, not only marks the location of the restrooms with a human-like image of a howling wolf responding to the call of nature, but also provides a splash of expressionism, irony and anxiety.
From the functional perspective, the driveway has separate areas for fuelling cars and heavy vehicles – the former adjoining the road and the latter located behind the building. The metal canopies over the pumps, supported on metal columns, have different designs. In the two bays reserved for cars, they have a free, rounded shape that extends to the building entrance and is higher than its roof. In the bay reserved for lorries, the metal canopy is rectangular, underscoring the single central column support, which tapers down toward the ground.
Location: Madonna dell’Olmo, Cuneo
Client: Centro Calor
Gross Floor Area: 400 m2
Architects: Damilanostudioarchitects, Duilio Damilano, Alberto Pascale
Freelance Collaborators: Claudia Allinio, Jessica Pignatta
3D Graphics: Alberto Pascale
Works Management: Duilio Damilano
Energy Certification: Cristina Gandolfo
Contractor: Costruzioni Generali Crastore Luigi Marco & C
Structural: Angelo Casalino
Heating, Plumbing and Fire-prevention: Sicurtecnica
Lighting Technology: Studio Luce
Formwork for Inclined Structures: Peri
Ribbed Metal Formwork: Centalfer
Interior Work: Nuovarekord
Waterproofing: Gerbaudo Manti Impermeabili
Doors, Windows and Gypsum Board: Damilanogroup
Floor and Wall Coverings: Maes
Photo by: © Andrea Martiradonna
Born into a family of sculptors at Cuneo, he was drawn to architecture even as a very young boy, modelling shapes and valuing objects for their texture.
He graduated in architecture from the Turin Polytechnic in 1988, his supervisor being Roberto Gabetti. In 1989 he began practising as a partner, and in 1990 set up the Damilano architectural practice, collaborating with artists and designers in Italy and abroad.
He has gone into various lines of spatial and composition research; the quest for purity of line as applied to luxury accommodation; and experimentation with form in commercial and industrial buildings.