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A competition by Electric Autonomy Canada produced futuristic renderings that look nothing like the gas stations we know today

Renderings of the winning design by James Alexander Silvester of Edinburgh, Scotland.Handout

A Canadian competition that called on architects worldwide to design the electric-vehicle fuelling station of tomorrow produced renderings that look nothing like the gas stations we know today.

Charging stations outfitted with exercise rooms, sensory gardens, cafés and playgrounds were just some of the ideas that more than 100 designers proposed to improve the EV fuelling experience.

The competition, offering a prize pot of $40,000, was created by Electric Autonomy Canada (EAC), a Toronto-based independent media organization that reports on the EV industry. Its purpose was to generate solutions to a continuing problem stalling the shift to electric vehicles in the country: drivers are faced with spending up to 40 minutes at charging stations waiting for their vehicles to refuel. Most EV charging stations are installed in places such as the sides of buildings or at current gas stations. EAC president Nino Di Cara said it makes the idea of charging a vehicle unpleasant, and might even turn people off from buying EVs altogether.

“It’s become a crazy thing where that notion of stopping to charge your car is the worst possible thing that can happen to you,” said Mr. Di Cara, who launched Electric Autonomy Canada in May, 2019, when he saw a need for more reporting on the quickly growing industry sector. “We’d want to get to a place where families instead would say ‘whoa let’s get an electric vehicle, I really want to stop there to charge.’ ”

Entries were evaluated by a 10-person jury which included Magalie Debellis, the lead exterior designer for General Motors’ Cadillac division; Claire Weisz, the founding principal of New York-based WXY Architecture; Electric Vehicle Society president Wilf Steimle; and Mr. Di Cara. The jurors scored the renderings on four parameters: innovation of the concept, quality of the design, sustainability and feasibility.

The top entry came from James Silvester, the lead architect at JAS, based in Edinburgh, Scotland. Mr. Silvester has led projects ranging from museums, to residential spaces, to the Al Salam Palace in Kuwait. Designing a fuelling station appealed to him because he specializes in sustainable design.

He conceived of a circular fuelling hub, where chargers surround a modular structure under a cantilevered canopy. Individual modules can contain office spaces, exercise rooms, retail stores, sensory gardens or cafés, with the themes and number of rooms varying between locations based on demand.

“Essentially it’s different versions of the same building, but the middle can expand and contract depending on where it’s situated,” said Mr. Silvester, who took home $25,000 for his winning design.

The architect said his challenge was to develop a product that entertained and relaxed people, all while using natural resources and a minimal amount of energy. His design is made from sustainable timber panels and set on a water-permeable platform to avoid the use of water drainage systems. The whole would be anchored with ground screw technology to make for easy set up and tear down.

“It’s lots of simple ideas brought together in a clever way to make a sustainable building,” he said. “You could easily run away with a project like this and design something that’s more theoretical and out there, but I wanted to understand what this could be today.”

The competition was sponsored by convenience store chain Parkland, which sells gasoline in Western Canada under banners such as Esso and Chevron. Senior vice-president Darren Smart said the company has a vested interest in the competition. Last year, Parkland launched a network of 25 EV charging sites with dining and shopping facilities between Vancouver Island and Calgary.

“EV customers still feel like an afterthought when they charge at gas stations,” Mr. Smart said. “What we wanted to do with this competition is put the EV driver first and remove our preconceived notions of about what a highway stop should look like.”

Mr. Smart said he especially liked Mr. Silvester’s modular concept for its built-in flexibility. At the competition’s awards ceremony, Parkland announced they plan to work with the architect to bring the design to life as part of their EV charging strategy in B.C., where electric-vehicle sales are higher than anywhere else in Canada.

“We look forward to working with James to further hone the design and identify a suitable location where we can bring it to life and create a world-class experience for EV drivers,” Mr. Smart said.

Mr. Di Cara hopes the competition leads to better vehicle-charging options, which would in turn boost adoption of electric vehicles in the country. The shift is well on its way: major chains such as Petro-Canada and Alimentation Couche-Tard have announced plans to widen their EV charging networks, and Canadians set a record for yearly EV purchases through just three quarters of 2021.

Still, barely 2 per cent of registered vehicles in the country run solely on battery power. But Mr. Di Cara says awareness of EVs in Canada is growing – 40 per cent of entries to the competition came from Canada (among which were an honourable mention coming from Woodbridge, Ont.). He plans to host the competition yearly to raise local interest in the EV economy.

“We’re a wealthy country, we love our cars, we have a clean energy grid,” he said. “I want Canada to be leading this transition.”

Renderings of the runner-up project The Circle by Selcuk Kismir of Istanbul, Turkey.Handout

Second place: Selcuk Kismir

Project: The Circle

City: Istanbul

Country: Turkey

Kismir is the principal of Fabric.a Architects. The studio produces ideas and design in different scales and fields, from interior design to the master planning.

“It feels like an elegant gesture, putting everything under one roof that’s also tilted,” said Peter Vikar, jury member and physical design director at New York-based architectural firm Local Projects. “It has the opportunity to be flexibly programmed and generate a sense of community.”

Renderings of the third place project Plug and Play by Selcuk Kismir of Berlin, Germany.Handout

Third place: Pavel Babiienko

Project: Plug and Play

City: Berlin

Country: Germany

Babiienko is an architect at Bundschuh Architekten, an architecture and design studio in Berlin.

“It looks like fun: effortless, very fresh and warm and welcoming,” said jury member and Cadillac lead exterior designer Magalie Debellis. “There is really a superb indoor-to-outdoor experience. And you get the feeling that you could easily spend more than 20 minutes in this hub.”

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