The Enduring Modernist Architecture of Petrol Stations in Ljubljana

Between 1950 and 1970, four unique petrol stations were created across the city of Ljubljana, Slovenia that typified a distinct time period of mid-century modernism in Yugoslavia. All four were created by the Slovenia-based oil company named "Petrol". These petrol stations were of a pioneering design that combined the material sciences and engineering innovations occurring through the early 1950s and combined these advances with the modernist architectural aesthetics of a style of regional building design called "Slovene Structuralism". Out of this combination came a series of mushroom-shaped concrete structures whose streamlined gravity-defying shapes inspired one think to the future, while simultaneously ushering in some of the very first 'modern' service stations in Slovenia. Early examples in the 1950s featured only modest floating roof sections off of the primary structure, but as the building technology progressed into the 1960s, expansive umbrella-like concrete mushrooms could constructed which fully sat on a single pillar, offering ideal protection and cover for the weather-conscious motorist. This floating cantilevered engineering pushed the boundaries of architectural design at that time in Slovenia, allowing architects to reassess the creative and innovative applications with which cantilevered concrete construction could be employed.

However, it was only a short time period in Ljubljana which these unique "mushroom" petrol stations were built. Several factors resulted in this concept being marginalized as the 1970s approached. The most significant factor was the 1963 earthquake in Skopje (in present-day North Macedonia), which resulted in authorities feeling that such structures did not meet Yugoslavia's increasingly stringent earthquake standards. Furthermore, a brief period of economic stagnation and increased labor costs in the early 1970s resulted in a limit to the creation of such structures. As such, after 1970, the "Petrol" company ceased the production of any additional mushroom-shaped modernist service stations.


While it is true that around the world similar types of mid-century mushroom-shaped futuristic service stations were built, what is unique to the city of Ljubljana is that not only do all four original service station structures survive until present-day (while the majority of the rest around the world were destroyed), but also three out of four of these structures are STILL being used as service stations by the "Petrol" oil company. These concrete canopies exist as unique architectural monuments for the city of Ljubljana and stand as testaments to a optimistic and forward-thinking period of Yugoslav aesthetics and design. In the following sections, we will look at each of the four petrol stations, seeing historic and present-day images, while also exploring a bit of information about their history and creation.

1.) Tržaška 44

A present-day view of the Petrol station at Tržaška 44 in Ljubljana

Address: Tržaška 44

Location: Ljubljana, Slovenia

Author(s): architect Martin Živič

Year built: 1953

Coordinates: 46°02'40.1"N, 14°29'06.6"E

Description: It was in 1953 that the first modern "service stations", as we understand them today, began to be built in Ljubljana by the "Petrol" oil company. One of these first incarnations was a structure built on Tržaška street west of the city center. Its form is characterized by a mushroom-shaped concrete canopy (roughly 22m x 13m in size), around the center of which was hung a series of glass curtain windows for the creation of its interior space. The sizeable overhanging eaves of the canopy allowed for cars to seek shelter while its petrol was being pumped, a seemingly simple yet effective innovation. Another interesting fact about these first 1953 service stations is that they were the first businesses in Slovenia to be open 24 hours a day. Also, an additional endearing original feature of this building that is often overlooked is a 2m wide colorful tile mosaic wall mural built into the north-facing side of the service station which depicts a map of Slovenia and the surrounding region. Although it has been nearly 70 years since this service station was built, it has experienced very little alteration, with even the tile mosaic mural surviving in good shape up until present day. The structure is protected by the Slovenian government as a historical site of architectural heritage, however, at the site itself there is unfortunately no information in regards to the history or significance of the building.

2.) Tivolska 46

Here is a present-day perspective of the former "Petrol" service station on Tivolska 48 in Ljubljana. Credit: Luka Skansi

Address: Tivolska 46

Location: Ljubljana, Slovenia

Author(s): architect Milan Mihelič & engineer Jože Jaklič

Year built: 1968

Coordinates: 46°03'27.2"N, 14°30'14.5"E

Description: Just north of the edge of Ljubljana's city center, not far from the edge of Tivoli Park, the first of a new unique style of Yugoslav-era "Petrol" brand service station was built in the city. Designed by famous Slovene architect Milan Mihelič, the primary component of this complex was a completely free-standing concrete canopy (19m x 19m square) which had its entire weight fully supported by a thick central pillar. Meanwhile, the underside of the canopy was artfully designed with a series of organic curves and elegant sculptural flourishes, almost giving the structure a tree-like feeling as it effortlessly hovers overhead. The architectural success of this structure was so impactful that it was even written about in German architectural journals of the era, making it one of the few Yugoslav structures of its type mentioned so prominently abroad. At some point after the post-Yugoslav era, this "Petrol" station closed down. However, the structure itself, although not currently being used, still remains to present-day and is in very good condition.

3.) Dunajska 70

Address: Dunajska 70

Location: Ljubljana, Slovenia

Author(s): [unknown]

Year built: 1970

Coordinates: 46°04'07.9"N, 14°30'38.9"E

Description: North of the city center of Ljubljana, just across from Bežigrad Stadium, another mushroom-style canopy "Petrol" brand service station was constructed in 1970. As opposed to just one canopy (as was employed at the Tivolska 46 structure) the station here at Dunajska 70 used a cluster of five concrete canopies to create the vehicle shelter for this complex. Standing like a series of connected umbrellas, this complex further explored the possibilities of using architecturally sophisticated floating canopies for not only customer convenience for "Petrol" station patrons, but also as a form of brand recognition for the "Petrol" oil company itself, as such innovative structures increasingly became visually synonymous with the brand. This complex continues to operate as a "Petrol" service station up to present day, with the canopies themselves being kept in good shape and undergoing very little change.

4.) Tivolska 43

Here is a vintage perspective of the "Petrol" service station at Tivolska 43 in Ljubljana. Credit: Siol.net

Address: Tivolska 43

Location: Ljubljana, Slovenia

Author(s): architect Edvard Ravnikar

Year built: 1969

Coordinates: 46°03'28.7"N, 14°30'12.6"E

Description: Perhaps the most ambitious addition to the "Petrol" brand series of service stations in Ljubljana was a creation by Slovene architect Edvard Ravnikar, who is often considered the most famous and influential of all Yugoslav-era architects in Slovenia. Built literally right across the street from Mihelič's station at Tivolska 46 that was constructed two years earlier, Ravnikar's structure consists of three identical umbrella canopies created of a thin concrete facade. All three are interconnected, stretching out over nearly 60 meters, and are designed in a swooping space-age fashion that gives them an indelibly sleek impression of speed and motion. This complex continues to operate into the present day as a "Petrol" brand service station, with the structure appearing almost exactly as it did when it was first unveiled in 1970. The architecture of this structure has become so iconic in Ljubljana that one architecture firm in the city named "Multiplan" has proposed a new service station concept to "Petrol" which is directly inspired by Ravnikar's design.

Selected sources and more info:

-Lara Slivnik paper: "The Distinction between Mushroom and Umbrella Structures in Slovene Architecture"

-Lara Slivnik paper: "An Overview of Mushroom Structures in Slovene Structuralism"

-Petrol website: "History"

-Finance.si article: "Nekdaj unikatni objekti, danes mc'donaldsi"

-InnovaConcrete article: "Bencinski Servis Petrol [Petrol Gas Station]"

-Evidenca.org paper: "Evidenca in valorizacija objektov slovenske moderne arhitekture med leti, 1945-1970" [PDF]

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