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BMW and the biggest architecture firm in the world have a vision for the post-gas, electric future

June 7, 2022, 1:24 PM UTC

For nearly a century, gas stations dotting the American landscape wove themselves deep into the country’s social fabric with pop artists like Edward Ruscha capturing these historic fixtures of everyday life.

But what is to become of these icons—increasingly associated with ever rising fuel prices—now that most major automakers are winding down their combustion car business in favour of electric vehicles?

That’s the question Germany’s BMW aims to answer with help from the renowned architectural bureau Gensler.

By 2035, electric vehicles are expected to comprise 45% of all new car sales in the United States. This rapid development requires solutions for the roughly 145,000 gas stations that together account for over 3.6 billion square feet of real estate. 

“The gas station as we know it today is a pass-through experience, your way of getting from point A to point B when you have to refuel your vehicle,” said Neil Brooker, global director for strategic partnering and operations at BMW Designworks. “Typically we spend the minimum amount of time possible.” 

Their abundance and strategic positioning on street corners, however, makes them ideal for a complete reimagining of their role—not unlike when New York City repurposed raised subway tracks on the West Side into the High Line, a popular destinationfor its tourists and urban denizens alike. 

The result is a concept the two companies are calling the “Nth Place”: not an office, not a home, but something in between that fits to the new post-pandemic era of hybrid work.

They are “more like new-age community centers”, according to Jordan Goldstein, co-firm managing principal at Gensler, the world’s largest architect buro.

Society’s pain points

These satellite spaces come complete with productivity hubs, meditation zones and a clubhouse area. It would support residents’ situational needs, giving back time and enabling a range of activities around work and play that bolster sustainability in future cities, according to the duo. 

The genesis came after Brooker came to speak at an event sponsored by Gensler, Goldstein recalled.

“We realized right afterwards that the avenues that they were investigating were parallel to the avenues we were investigating,” he said.

That’s because BMW Designworks functions much like it. As “architects of the future”, the in-house studio develops future-focused concepts for a wide range of sectors and customers around the world from its three locations in California, Shanghai and Munich.

Its president, Holger Hampf, believes companies such as his should point the way ahead, set out strategic approaches and initiate changes in societal behaviour.

“If we’re able to come together and bring great minds to the table, we could propose solutions to real issues, to real pain points in society, by working hand in hand,” added Goldstein. 

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