This series is part of the ‘What If’ campaign led by Architect Karuga Koinange, which seeks to showcase great design ideas seeking to inspire everyone from fundis, architects, designers, developers, investors down to the average mwananchi (public).
The fuel station as we know it has evolved over the last 100 years from a pure petrol supplier to a service station with retail facilities. Before the fuel station, petrol was picked up at hardware stores. Then fuel was sold as additional revenue for pharmacies such as the pharmacy in Wiesloch/Germany regarded as the first gas station in the world (1888). The global rise of vehicle ownership saw the rise of pumped fuel stations around the world.
With the stiff competitive nature of the oil and gas market, leading companies selling similar fuel products have found the need to promote their brand through addressing needs of motorist’s living on the fast lane. Fuel stations have become a clearly structured system as a marketing tool for gas companies.
Fuel outlets are accessible directly off a main road with a strong focus on branding, corporate colours and lighting. According to Paddy Briggs, former manager at Shell’s Retail Visual Identity Project, one of the most frequent repeat buying activities for consumers is the purchase of fuel averaging at least once a week in most markets.
It is understandable then why in Nairobi you will observe that all stations are fully serviced with attendants operating pumps, and most offering additional free services such as engine checks, tyre pressure checks and windshield cleaning. In addition, many fuel stations have adopted a chargeable retail competitive advantage with services such as convenience stores, fast food restaurants, car washes, cash dispensing machines, pharmacies, toilets, with some stations operating all hours.
From an architectural perspective, the fuel station in Nairobi has taken on an entirely new brief especially in light of the new mobility phenomenon. Through the invention of electric and solar powered cars, the question arises as to how this will change the identity of the fuel station. As the controversial subject of the future sustainability of oil continues to be debated, could there be a shift of future energy demands towards hydrogen?
The future energy options for vehicles could change the function and language of fuel stations. This futuristic proposal of a creative heavy duty fuel station moves away from the simple lightweight conventional designs of fuel stations. Could the new structure have built in hydrogen generators? Will the roof act as a surface for harvesting rain water and solar energy? To what extent contributes such a corporate architecture to a communication over sustainability?