Total filling station, 1969
The “tower” designed in 1969 for the Total oil company typifies Jean Prouvé’s concern with producing architecture that was light, modular, and adaptable. The circular shape of this small, one or two-level structure reflected the client’s wish to stand out from the competition with filling stations whose originality of design would combine a powerful, readily identifiable signal with an attractively modern corporate image. Speed was of the essence: the design process had to be rapid and the construction period brief so that the stations could go into operation as soon as possible. Freshly installed in his new agency on Rue des Blancs- Manteaux, in Paris, Prouvé saw this as the chance to pursue his long-standing experiments in producing innovative, functional architectural entities in harmony with the technical advances of their time. Returning to the principle of the supporting core he had come up with in the early 1950s, Prouvé suggested a central-plan building whose radial metal structure rested on a bent steel axial shaft. Fitted with thermoformed polyester facing panels specially designed with the Matra Industrie company for Total’s roadside and freeway stations, this small building illustrates its designer’s interest in utilizing the resources provided by such new materials as plastics. Sticking to his constructional guns, Prouvé designed multifunctional components. Thus the core—the decisive structural element—stabilized the building, secured the joists forming the skeleton, and served as a service shaft for all the utilities. The peripheral posts were simultaneously structural elements and attachment points for the joists and the brise-soleil. The neoprene seal, compressed between the facing panels, was a gambit for both assemblage and waterproofing. The idea of applying an automotive technique to this building points up Prouvé’s inventive, pragmatic spirit; and for the facing panels he had no qualms about adding windows made for buses: aluminum frames with fixed or horizontally sliding panes. Here standardization was pushed to the limit: a single trapezoidal structure for the 13 floor and roof grids and a single facing panel model, with or without an opening, enabled construction of a hundred filling stations all over France in less than three years.