»Architectural interpretations accepted without reflection could obscure the search for signs of a true nature and a higher order.«

Louis Isadore Kahn

Blog Building of the Week

Pumping it up in Tirana

Albanian Petrol Stations by 51N4E

  • Buckminster Fuller Lives! One of the 51N4E-designed petrol stations in Tirana, which combine bold architectural forms with sensitive urban placemaking. All photos: Andreas Ruby. 1 / 10  Buckminster Fuller Lives! One of the 51N4E-designed petrol stations in Tirana, which combine bold architectural forms with sensitive urban placemaking. All photos: Andreas Ruby.
  • The Kastrati’s cantilevered canopy “evokes the heroic prowess of modernist engineering” and sits astride a brick “monumental drive-in curve” that “recalls the carriage drop-off point of a baroque castle.” 2 / 10  The Kastrati’s cantilevered canopy “evokes the heroic prowess of modernist engineering” and sits astride a brick “monumental drive-in curve” that “recalls the carriage drop-off point of a baroque castle.”
  • “51N4E have pulled the street space over onto the plot of the filling station, much as you might drag the carpet of your living room into the hallway.” 3 / 10  “51N4E have pulled the street space over onto the plot of the filling station, much as you might drag the carpet of your living room into the hallway.”
  • Filling up the tank here is transformed into an experience “of being in an urban square where you can also happen to buy petrol.” 4 / 10  Filling up the tank here is transformed into an experience “of being in an urban square where you can also happen to buy petrol.”
  • An opening in the brick wall leads to a space where an informal market is often held at the back of the block. 5 / 10  An opening in the brick wall leads to a space where an informal market is often held at the back of the block.
  • The bleak urban context of the Kastrati filling station shows how successful it has been at carving out and creating a successful urban space and place. 6 / 10  The bleak urban context of the Kastrati filling station shows how successful it has been at carving out and creating a successful urban space and place.
  • The Europetrol station designed in 2005-2006 is situated along the biggest approach road to Tirana from the airport, its huge floating dome supported at three points, one the service station with a café, one a car wash. 7 / 10  The Europetrol station designed in 2005-2006 is situated along the biggest approach road to Tirana from the airport, its huge floating dome supported at three points, one the service station with a café, one a car wash.
  • “...a monumental steel cupola floats above a small clutch of petrol pumps...” 8 / 10  “...a monumental steel cupola floats above a small clutch of petrol pumps...”
  • The petrol pumps under the facetted dome. “Standing beneath it, you get an intense sensation of being sheltered, a feeling you might expect from a chapel...” 9 / 10  The petrol pumps under the facetted dome. “Standing beneath it, you get an intense sensation of being sheltered, a feeling you might expect from a chapel...”
  • The filling station is situated on a corner site, so the small service and café sit along a small perpendicular road, thus providing a street façade, and gaining a street presence, as well. 10 / 10  The filling station is situated on a corner site, so the small service and café sit along a small perpendicular road, thus providing a street façade, and gaining a street presence, as well.

The chance to build a petrol station is a rare opportunity for an architecture firm, since the handful of multinationals controlling the market tend to prefer blanketing the globe with their standard corporate readymades. Hence it was quite a treat for the Belgian office 51N4E to be asked to design two of them in Tirana.  Andreas Ruby took a road trip to investigate.

Albania is one of the least likely places in Europe where you would expect to come across contemporary architecture. As a totalitarian regime in the mould of Stalinism, and later Maoism, Albania existed in complete isolation during the cold war and was sealed tight even against its neighbouring Eastern block countries. When the regime collapsed in 1991, the country stumbled straight into a neoliberal economy and it wasn’t long before the ensuing culture shock was reflected in the transformation of urban developments.

Private vs. Collective

After decades of forced collectivism, people understandably jumped on the bandwagon of late-capitalism. Private ownership became de rigeur: my house, my garden, my car. In contrast, the idea of public space was inexorably contaminated by memories of military parades and choreographed party rallies. As a result, over the past twenty years most new urban developments in Albania focus almost entirely on satisfying the spatial needs of private investors – and their mantra is: the only good space is sellable space. Nevertheless, below the radar of this raw real estate rationale, Tirana has still managed to develop a great culture of public space, one that is embedded in the everyday activities of its citizens and the city’s infectious street life.

In view of commercial urban inhibitions, 51N4E saw their petrol station designs as opportunities to generate public space as contraband, a facility that helps to fuel the city as well as its automobiles. In both designs, the architects have realised this strategy in two quite different ways.

The Kastrati Station

The Kastrati’s cantilevered canopy “evokes the heroic prowess of modernist engineering” and sits astride a brick “monumental drive-in curve” that “recalls the carriage drop-off point of a baroque castle.”

In the Kastrati filling station (Kastrati being a common Albanian surname), completed 2010, 51N4E have pulled the street space over onto the plot of the filling station, much as you might drag the carpet of your living room into the hallway. A long wall of yellowish bricks leads from the road in a generous concave curve deep into the plot and out again to the road on the other side. Where the wall meets the far end of the plot, a massive blue steel roof cantilevers breathtakingly back towards the street, sheltering the petrol pumps placed underneath.

The resulting set-up is a careful blend of unique spatial scenarios: the monumental drive-in curve recalls the carriage drop-off point of a baroque castle, the roof evokes the heroic prowess of modernist engineering and the long brick wall (a material rarely used in Tirana) is reminiscent if Dutch town squares.  

Indeed the Kastrati station gives less of a feeling that you are at a petrol station souped up with some special spatial effects, than one of being in an urban square where you can also happen to buy petrol. This scenario is enhanced by an inviting opening in the wall, which leads to an informal market at the back of the block. A conventional petrol station would suck you in from the street and spit you out again into the traffic after refuelling, but 51N4E’s Kastrati station makes you actually curious to explore the urban fabric hidden behind.

 The Europetrol Station

The petrol pumps under the facetted dome. “Standing beneath it, you get an intense sensation of being sheltered, a feeling you might expect from a chapel...”

The same kind of urban reasoning drives the design of 51N4E’s  Europetrol station (2005-2006) situated along the biggest approach road to Tirana from the airport. Held by three supports, a monumental steel cupola floats above a small clutch of petrol pumps. Standing beneath it, you get an intense sensation of being sheltered, a feeling you might expect from a chapel perhaps, but not something as banal as a petrol station. It is a calculated collision of scales and atmospheres indicating that, once again, this project is about transforming a functional environment to provide asylum for a public space that otherwise would have no place in the city.

Europetrol’s layout also clearly departs from conventional filling stations. It is situated on a corner site and the small service and café building is located against the small perpendicular road, providing an actual street façade – petrol station buildings are almost always situated away from the road – and a small car wash structure marks the far end of the plot. Together, they frame a small square crowned and accentuated by the tall, hovering cupola that puts the finishing touch to the estrangement from the normal iconography of this program. As you drive by, the structure clearly looks nothing like a petrol station, rather, an inconspicuous monument to public space, which happens to contain a filling station as well.

– Andreas Ruby is the co-founder of Ruby Press specialising in books on architecture, art and other cultural practices.

 www.ruby-press.com

 

  • Facebook
  • Tumblr
  • Twitter

Advertisement

RECENT POSTS

more

Recent Magazines

25 Apr 2016

Magazine No. 43
Athens

  • essay

    From the Bottom and the Top

    Powering Athens through collectivity and informal initiatives by Cristina Ampatzidou

  • photo essay

    Nowhere Now Here

    A photo essay by Yiorgis Yerolymbos

  • Essay

    Back to the Garden

    Athens and opportunities for new urban strategies by Aristide Antonas

  • Interview

    Point Supreme

    An interview by Ellie Stathaki

>

03 Mar 2016

Magazine No. 42
Walk the Line

  • Essay

    The Line Connects

    An essay on drawing and architectural education by Wes Jones

  • Essay

    Drawing Attention

    Phineas Harper sketches out new narrative paths with pencil power

  • Essay

    Gotham

    Elvia Wilk on a city of shadows as architectural fiction

  • Interview

    The (Not So) Fine Line

    A conversation thread between Sophie Lovell and architecture cartoonist Klaus

>

28 Jan 2016

Magazine No. 41
Zvi Hecker

  • essay

    Space Packers

    Zvi Hecker’s career-defining partnership with Eldar Sharon and Alfred Neumann by Rafi Segal

  • Interview

    Essentially I am a Medieval Architect

    An interview with Zvi Hecker by Vladimir Belogolovsky

  • viewpoint

    The Technion Affair

    Breaking and entering in the name of architectural integrity by Zvi Hecker

  • Photo Essay

    Revisiting Yesterday’s Future

    A photo essay by Gili Merin

>

17 Dec 2015

Magazine No. 40
Iceland

  • Viewpoint

    Wish You Were Here

    Arna Mathiesen asks: Refinancing Iceland with tourism – but at what cost?

  • Photo Essay

    Spaces Create Bodies, Bodies Create Space

    An essay by Ólafur Elíasson

  • Focus

    Icelandic Domestic

    Focus on post-independence houses by George Kafka

  • Essay

    The Harp That Sang

    The saga of Reykjavík's Concert Hall by Sophie Lovell & Fiona Shipwright

>

more

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR MAILING LIST Close

Uncube is brandnew and wants to look good.
For best performance please update your browser.
Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer 10 (or higher), Safari, Chrome, Opera

×