The most beautiful gas station in the world

See this story in the Toronto Globe and Mail about the shuttering of the gas station on Nuns’ Island in Quebec, Canada designed by the office of Mies van der Rohe ?

The Mies gas station is no more. In December, Esso quietly removed the pumps and put plywood over the glass and the company sign out front. Now, Montreal’s Verdun borough is left to sort out what to do with a rare piece of architecture not easily adaptable.

“The thing really is beautiful; it’s so unassuming, like a lot of great artworks,” said Phyllis Lambert, whose family, the Bronfmans, commissioned the Seagram Building.

“It’s not pretentious, not glitzy. The major problem is, what to do with it now.”

The gas station was part of a neighbourhood that Mies’s Chicago firm designed in the 1960s, after a bridge connected Île-des-Soeurs (Nuns’ Island) to the rest of Montreal and the island was developed. …

“It’s of a great simplicity, and it’s a building that was really thought out. It’s not overstated, it’s very modest, very functional, and very well designed,” said Dinu Bumbaru, the director of Heritage Montreal, who has described it as the “Ritz” of gas stations.

Ms. Lambert and Mr. Bumbaru are monitoring proposals for the site, owned by island developer Proment Corp.

But it was this line:

The filling station was a departure from the garish corporate colours, neon signs and blinding flood lighting of most modern service stations.

that reminded me that so many gas stations today, if you squint a little bit,

do look like gaudy versions of Mies’ New National Gallery

or the Farnsworth House. A resemblance Martin Pawley noticed long ago

(click image to enlarge.)

Baudrillard says advertising is signs and codes which appear to represent social reality, but actually constitute their own realm– of hyper-reality– which has little to do with what is real.

When we’re exposed to it enough, hyper-reality and media-reality can seem more real than the real. And so, after these brightly-lit modernist gas stations popped up all over, artist Jenny Holzer added LED words, signage, like advertising, on the ceiling of Mies’ New National Gallery in Berlin.

I love her piece. It says a lot. But I’m glad it’s off most of the time.

photos of Nun’s Island Esso via

2 Responses to “The most beautiful gas station in the world”

  1. Jeff Jacobs Says:

    Unbelievable. It’s a thing of beauty. Even the low Esso sign is nice.

  2. Edward Lifson Says:

    Yes. I’d like to buy it. How much? Maybe we can place it half way from Chicago to the Farnsworth House, to boost tourism. Just kidding. Well, half-kidding.

    I remember Stanley Tigerman told me he worked on the Nuns’ Island project in Mies’ office.

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