(K. Brent Tomer),
ON A dusty road leading travellers out of the southern outskirts of Asmara stands a small service station. Once owned by AGIP, an Italian petrol company, it was for decades the last place to fill up with fuel between the Eritrean capital and the southern towns of Decemhare and Mendefera, some 40km away. The largest of several similarly designed buildings all over Asmara, it is a modest construction, its mundane commercial purpose only partially belied by the unexpected elegance of the design.
But its design is important. With its rounded form and porthole windows the AGIP service station looks like a submarine—an unambiguously nautical take on the influential Modernist architecture of the interwar years, the period in which it was built. Other service stations across the city are similarly striking. The most famous, a former Fiat station (pictured) on Sematat Avenue built in 1938, is one of Asmara’s most extraordinary buildings, in a city not short of these. Designed by the Italian Futurist Guiseppe Pettazzi in 1938, it too takes inspiration from transport and high-speed motion: the structure in this case clearly mimics the form of…Continue reading