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Helios House “Green” Gas Station (USA)

Credits: ©2010 OfficeDA Architects

A green gas station, you say? It’s the building itself, not what it dispenses, in this case – a bit of a paradox to some. Built in 2007 it is known as Helios House by the designers, OfficeDA Architects. This BP gas station in downtown Los Angeles, California, employs 90 solar panels that generate electricity and reduce the building’s carbon footprint by an estimated 5,000 pounds of carbon dioxide annually. Its “green” restroom is covered with recycled-content ceramic tiles, a vegetated roof covers part of a building, the concrete paving has recycled glass imbedded that helps reflect sunlight to keep it cooler, there are motion sensors on lights, LED lighting is installed that uses less energy, there are recycling bins on the site, and the stainless steel panels on the building are fully recyclable at the end of their useful life cladding this mod structure. Poised at the intersection of two major north/south and east/west corridors – Robertson and Olympic Boulevard – Helios House is on the site of a previous gas station built in the mid-1970’s. This revamped version was upgraded to become an environmentally-friendly building partly by “upcycling” old materials and installing new materials that are sustainable and recyclable. BP calls it an “edustation” that was conceived as a “learning lab” and designed to stimulate dialogue and education on environmental stewardship. The modern stainless steel faceted form, was designed using CATIA software which allowed for factory-precision design; it incorporates 1,653 stainless steel panels that were preassembled offsite into 52 transportable components, then assembled in only four weeks.


Helios House Gas Station LA

The canopy of Helios House gas station in LA is clad in triangular stainless steel panels that are completely recyclable. ©2010 Office DA Architects

Helios House: Gas Station of the Future?
Adapted from Sung - November 2007, Losanjealous

Is the current cultural emphasis toward environmental responsibility here to stay, or just a Gore-ified fad? Will we ever be able to breathe clean air in the city of angels or will we be mired in an ever-increasing cloud of CO? BP, the international oil company, shows where they stand on the ecological divide with the creation of the first LEED certified gas station in the country. And where else did they choose to setup shop other than our own car loving, petroleum guzzling, auto-status capital of the world. Wait a second–an oil company touting green architecture and sustainability? Isn’t that like Martha Stewart giving investment advice you may ask? Isn’t that like the Yankees helping the Dodgers (Oh wait–that actually happened.) Before you make up your mind, let’s give BP some credit for spending part of their gazillion profit dollars on a good cause, be it the environment or boost in public relations. Losanjealous took a tour of the premises–code named “Helios House”–to learn more about BP’s efforts.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Rating: Certified–one of only ten structures in the City of Los Angeles (as of November 2007).

Types of Fuel Available: Unleaded gasoline only (so far, but BP plans on testing out alternative fuel pumps in the near future.)

Types of Service: Self-Serve only. (Attendants are all trained or have backgrounds in green issues and will provide information on how you can contribute to helping the environment.)

Convenience Store: N/A–That’s right, they don’t even sell cigarettes or lottery tickets.

Canopy: We’ll start here because it’s the most striking element in the design of the station. It’s huge and covers all of the pump bays. It houses 90 solar panels that supply power for the station. The canopy is clad in triangular stainless steel panels that are completely recyclable. They are also adhered to the structure in a way that each individual panel can be easily removed and reused on another building if desired. The unfinished stainless steel surface increases light reflectivity which in turn reduces lighting demand.

Signage: There are no traditional signs on the station. The price board on the corner has an unassuming stainless steel logo that blends in with the rest of the station. BP chose to use the existing billboards on site as well as the bus stop on Olympic for their signage. Even then, the signs do not carry BP’s name, instead clever phrases with corresponding images give hints to passing drivers that this gas station is unique.

Restrooms: The interior of the bathroom rivals that of any boutique hotel. By the way, the rooms are kept unlocked so you won’t have to squirm in line while you wait for a key from the attendant. The tiles are made from recycled glass and the wood is farmed. There is also a music system control panel that lets you pick songs from BP’s library of tunes while you’re using the restroom. Toilets are operated via a dual flush mechanism–small flush for number one and big flush for number two. (This is becoming common even in non-certified buildings.) The roof is covered with drought-tolerant plants to increase the total landscaped area on the site and to naturally insulate the restrooms.

Lighting: Light fixtures throughout the site use LED lamps. LED uses less energy to provide the same illumination level. The lighting is controlled by photocells and motion detectors to optimize times of operation.

Landscape: Most of the planting material used is of the drought tolerant variety, including cacti. Rainwater is collected from the large canopy and other buildings into a cistern, then used to irrigate landscaping on-site and for urinals and toilets.

Floor: Recycled glass was mixed into the concrete pavement minimizing heat gain during the day. It also looks cool. Much of the building material from the previous gas station on the site was recycled for this building or used on another building.

Recycling: The station has recycling bins for paper, cans, bottles, and even cell phones, which are donated to a local charity..

Relevant books:
Research & Design: The Architecture of Variation
Function of Form
Buckminster Fuller: Starting with the Universe

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Office DA Architects (Boston, Massachusetts, USA)