Better Design

People don’t seem to understand what a designer does. When you say “designer” most people think of a flamboyant character, like John Galliano (above), dressed thusly.

Most design work is invisible. The chair you are sitting in was designed by someone, with basic universal principles of how high the seat is, how deep the seat is, the height of the back rest, and whether the chair has three, four or five legs (or even more. Maybe you have Really Special Chairs).

City planning is a type of design work. Roads have to be a certain width for a variety of reasons, the height of curbs is noted, crosswalks are placed according to rules and decisions that someone made.

Corporate entities use many designers – from their logo to their website to their storefront to their headquarters. Someone (well – lots of people. Graphic designers don’t usually do architecture and interior designers probably don’t do web design) made decisions about how a space would function, how brand identity would affect consumer preferences, and the font in their advertising.

Good design makes a thing functional. It makes towns and cities pleasant to live in and easy to get around. It makes a building retain its value and be useful for decades or centuries. Good design isn’t confusing or hard to use.

Let’s look at a couple of local gas stations that I think have pretty good design.

The first one is at Hamilton Rd. and Highbury. This site is the complete inverse of my location. The adjacent houses are on a much higher elevation than the station, which is situated approximately 3 meters below the highest point:


This (above) is looking at the station on Highbury, facing west, near the intersection of Hamilton Road. The canopy is large, and connects to the Circle K store, which offers weather protection for gas and convenience store customers. There are raised curbs with small shrubs for landscaping.

This (below) is looking at the other part of the station, by Hamilton Road, facing north. Raised curbs and landscaping direct traffic flow. The dumpsters are enclosed by a fence like structure. The vents for the underground storage tanks are placed near the middle of the lot, to help the fumes dissipate with traffic airflow. There are very large trees planted around the border, which helps to beautify and delineate the lot. By the carwash is a masonry fence as tall as the roof of the carwash. This helps to absorb sound and vibration. The lights for the parking and drive-through area are shielded so the light is concentrated directly downwards. The house directly next door is on a much higher elevation. There is a very tall wood fence, with some type of vine planted next to it:


This (below) is the view from the street, with the garage and driveway of the house that is next to the station, pictured in the center of the photo above. The very large trees help to create a feeling of privacy and separation, and the tall, continuous fence at the top of the land elevation  help to conceal the station. From the photos it appears that the chances of light spill-over into this home are slim. This is a result of considered and thoughtful planning and design.


This (below) is what an aerial view of the site looks like:

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Greenspace is around the station on four sides. On the Highbury Road side (bottom of the image) tall trees are densely planted between the car wash building and the neighbouring house. The trees would help to absorb sound from the carwash. There is also a tall wood fence on that side. Traffic is guided through the various parts of the station through the use of raised curbs and landscaping. This corner has a fair amount of pedestrian traffic (a bus stop on Hamilton Rd and a bus stop on Highbury). The raised curbs with landscaping make this safer for pedestrians. There are clear sightlines for drivers at all entrance and exit points. The size of the buildings, canopy, road and parking areas are appropriate in scale for the site. Nothing feels cramped or lost. Do I think these buildings are beautiful ? No. But overall this station looks very functional and considered.

Here’s a station at Clarke and Trafalgar (below):


This is on a smaller lot. The houses next door seem to be on a slightly higher elevation. The underground gasoline storage vents are visible in the image above, close to the gas price sign. They are as far away as possible from neighbouring homes. This station is completely surrounded by a very tall masonry fence, which may be taller than the 7′ city bylaw. There are raised curbs and some landscaping.The lighting is downward directed, and is located where necessary. There is a clear entrance and exit for the carwash at the back of the lot.


This canopy (below) is  connected to the convenience store, and the placement makes good use of the relatively tight space. Large evergreens are planted on the landscaping perimeter.


Large trees are planted next to the solid masonry fence(below). It appears the adjacent property owner has connected their tall wood fence to the station’s fence:


An aerial view of this station shows how it was planned. The flow of traffic for users was considered, there is greenspace and raised curbs on all four sides of the lot. The dumpsters are concealed by a fence-like structure. There is a sidewalk that leads to the convenience store. It appears that some large trees are planted adjacent to the carwash, while others seem to be on that home’s lot. The buildings are utilitarian but functional. It does not seem that the light from the canopy, or other lighting on this site would affect the house on either side. This is good design, in my opinion.


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