"In recent years, a new type of station has made its appearance. It is clean, unassuming, and has the inestimable virtue of looking like a filling station."
          --   Architectural Forum


While the domestic architecture of gas stations denied the technology on which it was based, the functional celebrated that technology. Ultimately, the functional design of the gas station was simply another type of design. Daniel Vieya observes, while "these design were smooth, clean, and, like a machine, pared of superfluous parts....[i]n reality, though, it was no more a functional machine-age building than the domestic station was a home" (Vieyra, 56). The functional station actually includes several disparate styles of design that evolved in the 30s including: simple brick or prefab stations, prefab glass and metal units, International style, the modified, looser work of Frank Lloyd Wright and others, and Moderne design.



Advances in design and manufacturing allowed for the widespread distribution of prefab gas stations. These ready-made stations met the demand for standardized design and reinforced that demand. The earliest designs shared the same basic the shape - the box - but varied in terms of material. The brick and stucco box preceded one made of steel-framed glass. Both used slick porcelain panels and expanses glass. The exposed cables, wall panels and corrugated roof all showed the speed with which the station had been constructed (Vieyra, 58). The large glass panels allowed customers and passersby to see the mechanics at work, turning the station into a "continuous advertisement for itself" (Vieyra, 58). In its aesthetic, its construction and its transparency of function, this design celebrated speed.


This movement in the 1930s looked to the machine for its guiding aesthetic. Proponents of International style eschewed the decorative aspects of earlier design. This European approach was popularized in America with the 1932 Museum of Modern Art show, "Modern Architecture: International Exhibition." The exhibition featured a Standard Oil station which was, "[d]esigned as a prototype by the American firm of Clauss and Daub in 1931. [T]his station had a continuous glass wall that created a light, elegant volume. Colored enamel plates formed a narrow red cornice under which a white band announced the company name in red lettering…the elegant curtain wall skin stands free of the building's concrete support system. This Standard Oil station embodies the principles of the International Style…by converting the frank industrialism [of the prefab stations] into a sophisticated style" (Vieyra, 59).


Most American industrial designers adapted and softened International style with their use of natural materials and less boxy design. Among the best known of such American designers was Frank Lloyd Wright. He saw the gas station as architecturally and socially significant: "The roadside service station may be in embryo the future city distribution center. Each station may grow into a well-designed, convenient neighborhood distribution center naturally developing as meeting place, restaurant, restroom" (qtd. in Vieyra, 63). Vieyra describes Wright's early design as, featuring "exposed trusses supporting cantilevered canopies that extend from the office. Large "masts" bearing neon-tube sails articulate the cantilever's main support and serve to attract attention to the station. In order to keep a continuous, flexible, flowing space, the gas was to be supplied not from conventional pumps but from flexible overhead hoses suspended from the cantilevered canopies" (Vieyra, 63). The following stations are excellent examples of how other American designers adapted the principles of International Style.


The most influential aesthetic on gas station design in the thirties was Art Deco, also referred to as Moderne. Like, International Style, Moderne referenced the machine but did so by using machine-finished or machine-inspired decorative coverings. In this regard Moderne was less revolutionary than was International Style. These decorative coverings conformed to two very different models, zig-zag and streamlined Vieyra, 64). The decorative aspect of Zig-Zag Moderne was dramatically evident in its "crisp angularity" (Vieyra, 67). These designs were rarely mass-produced because of the time and expense involved in building them. Streamlined gas stations, on the other hand, were much more plentiful. Unlike the Zig-zag Moderne buildings, they had no obvious decorative covering. Their rounded corners and slick covering were deliberately aerodynamic in appearance, evoking speed. They do not reveal the actual technology of the station's construction or operation, but rather suggest technology in their appearance. These pictures illustrate how easily the Streamlined Moderne building could incorporate corporate imagery.
While the architecture of domestic stations of the 30s typically lagged behind the actual home design of the period, these Moderne stations were often the only examples of that architectural style in a neighborhood, validating Vierya's claim that they had "more of a dramatic impact on our landscape than any other type of building" (Vieyra, 77).