When is a petrol station not a petrol station? When it’s the Red Hill filling station in Leicestershire! If you travel via the A6 at Loughborough Road to drop off goods or pick up return loads you may be familiar with this space age looking road stop, but what you might not know is that it holds a pretty special honour. And it’s not the only one… |
English Heritage on Display
In 2012, two filling stations in the UK – the one Red Hill and one at Markham Moor in Nottinghamshire – were listed as significant buildings and put under the protection of English Heritage. It may seem a little strange that such contemporary commercial structures received the status, but delve a little deeper and you’ll understand why. While both were constructed in the 1960s, their distinctive architecture puts them in a class of their own and, in their time, they were considered extreme innovations.
Affectionately known as the ‘winged wonder’, the curved roof of the former filling station, which has now been reborn as a Little Chef Restaurant, is certainly its most striking feature. Designed by German structural engineer Dr Hajnal-Kónyi in 1961, when it rose out of the Nottinghamshire landscape it was certainly something different – to put it mildly.
To give it its correct term, the entirely concrete roof is hyperbolic paraboloid – which to most of us means it looks like a saddle, with rising points at each end. The dramatic roof is supported by four very normal looking pillars, around which the rest of the single level building is constructed. The station was incredibly cheap to build, at a cost of the equivalent in today’s money of £4,500.
While it looks entirely different, the structure at Red Hill was conceived with the same ethos in mind, which was to create a building that doesn’t just dominate the landscape, but enhances it – and our enjoyment of it. Whether it achieves that aim may be a matter of opinion, but it certainly begs a double take as you pull in to refuel. The structure comprises a regular rectangular building at the rear, with six huge segmented ‘parasol’ canopies covering the forecourt. As well as providing protection from the elements, these parasols collect any rainwater and disperse it via the slim supporting central columns. At night the parasols are illuminated from beneath, which provides a futuristic glow.
The Red Hill canopies were designed by an American, Eliot Noyes, who took his inspiration from the Modernist lines of Le Corbusier’s architectural work. The then-operators of the filling station, Mobil, originally commissioned him in the 1960s to take on the redesign of their corporate branding across all their sites. Since then the station has passed through the hands of Esso and now BP, but thankfully, Noyes’ design has not been tampered with.
Take in a Little Culture with your Return Loads!
So next time you’re delivering to Nottinghamshire or Leicestershire, or if you ever need to deviate to the area to pick up some return loads, stop off and check out these two very interesting English Heritage structures.
Norman Dulwich is a Correspondent for Haulage Exchange, the leading online trade network for the road transport industry. Connecting logistics professionals across the UK and Europe through their website, Haulage Exchange provides services for matching delivery work and return loads with available drivers. Over 5,400 member companies are networked together through the Exchange to fill empty capacity, get new clients and form long-lasting business relationships.
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