Roadside Attractions: The Art of the Petrol Station

Wednesday December 12, 2018 Written by Andrew Mueller

Like most varieties of retail outlet, petrol stations have become increasingly identikit in recent years, differing little in their branding, merchandise and sullen, clock-punching staff in corporate golf shirts from one continent to the next. This is always a shame, no matter the identikit retail outlet in question – but arguably more so with petrol stations. As is demonstrated by a splendid new book published by Gestalten, petrol stations were once things of wonder.

The book, featuring a foreword by Jay Leno, is inevitably entitled It’s a Gas!, but is nearer the mark with its subtitle, “The Allure of the Gas Station”. As depicted in the above photo, petrol stations are indeed alluring places: eccentric, distinctive, often beautiful, occasionally worth the drive on their own. In rural Britain in the 1930s, at least one had a thatched roof, which seems an audacious choice given the pressurised flammable liquids it was designed to house. Meanwhile, the (still-operational) Skovshoved station on the outskirts of Copenhagen is rightly regarded as a masterpiece of 1930s functionalism.

But it was America, inevitably, that perfected the form, punctuating its freeways with stylish monuments to a national romance with the road. The book’s most spectacular photos date from the 1950s and ’60s, when petrol stations were frequently as extravagant and gorgeous as the cars they serviced.

This snippet first appeared in Smith Journal volume 29, out now. Buy a copy at our online store, find your closest stockist or subscribe.

It’s a Gas! is published by Gestalten. Grab a copy here.