Located in the center of Asmara, Eritrea’s capital city, is the Fiat Tagliero Service Station. Designed by famed Italian architect Giuseppe Pettazzi, this Futurist-style gas station was completed in 1938.
Asmara is the largest city in Eritrea and was incorporated as its capital by the Italians during their colonial rule of the African country. Pettazzi built many Art Deco buildings in Eritrea during this time, but this service station— modeled on airplane design as evidenced by its “wings”— is his most famous.
The Fiat Tagliero Service Station is a petrol station that includes a central tower with office space, a cashier’s desk, and a shop. The building’s flighty design is widely understood as a problematic nod to Italy’s Fascist history; it was built just months after the country’s airplanes dispensed thousands of sulfur mustard shells over Eritrea, killing tens of thousands of innocent civilians.
During construction, authorities attempted to convince the architect that the building’s wings required pillars, as a safety concern. Pettazzi refused to comply and went so far as to threaten the service station’s contractor and an unassuming construction worker with a handgun in a dramatic display of conviction standing atop his creation. Clearly, he felt the supports were not necessary, and he won the argument.
Pettazzi’s act is unsurprising, as architects who were too avant-garde for Mussolini’s Fascist Italy (and Europe in general) were sent to Asmara to design wildly imaginative buildings as a way to illustrate Italy’s idea of a modern city in their newly-taken territory. Pettazzi fit the bill.
A remarkable example of Italian modernist architecture, the Fiat Tagliero Service Station remains structurally sound to this day and has survived numerous conflicts and war. It was restored in 2003 and is unable to be altered by law. Thanks in part to this striking service station, Asmara was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2017.