AGIP gas stations: art on the road

1) Cortemaggiore (Piacenza), 1950

Francesco Andreani is an architect, university professor, and city planning councilman in Terni, Umbria. He will guide us into the evocative world of AGIP gas stations – small examples of 20th-century art that are scattered throughout Italy. This is the first in a series of three articles. The numbers in the brackets point to the relevant photographs.

by Francesco Andreani

An impressive number of small works of 20th-century art is scattered throughout Italy, often the trace of a fallen golden age of Italian architecture.

Most AGIP gas stations – yes, those are the works of art I am talking about – were designed by Mario Bacciocchi da Fiorenzuola d’Arda, son of a printmaker and one of the great architects history seems to have forgotten.

These gas stations were built for Enrico Mattei’s ENI starting in the 1950s. Bacciocchi had worked on Metanopoli from planning designs to architectural details, all the way to the name “Metanopoli” itself – which was a successful and effective way to express the strength and importance of new companies like ENI after the war. Mattei had great trust in him.

A large, reinforced concrete platform – white, thin, elegant, with the profile of simple load charts – lifted off the ground and enveloped big and small gas stations (1). There were thirteen variations on the same format, adapted to everything from the most basic kiosks – which today appear to be the legacy of an unforeseen modernity in Italy – to major structures that included bars, restaurants and shops, all protected by this unique, white, simple, constructive roof (2,3,4).

Such modern, functional, and welcoming gas stations were built since 1953 – two hundred of them a year – to represent ENI’s Agip, a national company that was hoping to replace foreign multinationals such as Esso, Shell and BP in Italian people’s hearts and business choices.

AGIP offered hospitality to travelers first hand, while multinational companies delegated their restaurants and services to third parties.

Mattei and Bacciocchi fought their battle fiercely, with advertisement campaigns and the evocative power of their gas stations (5). Their opponents responded by forming alliances with other beloved Italian brands, like Pavesi and Motta, which would create the magnificent bridge-like buildings that are now an indelible memory in Italy’s history and culture (6).

It was a stunning, fascinating, and fertile battle that used architecture as its main, steadfast weapon.

(References:
Vv. Aa., “On the road”, edizioni 24 Ore Cultura, Milan 2011.
D. Deschermeier, “Avventure urbanistiche e architettoniche dell’Eni di Enrico Mattei (1953-1962). Tra progetto e strategia aziendale”, Bologna 2007)

Photos via: ©Archivio fotografico Eni, ©www.retrofutur.org

October 20, 2015