Are Abandoned Gas Stations the Wellness Hubs of the Future?

Today's shuttered gas station, tomorrow's wheatgrass juice-slinging fitness center?. (Photo: Don Graham/flickr)

If the predictions hold true, a vast majority of motorists in the not-so-distant future will be charging their cars at home overnight instead of filling up at a local gas station. A trail of shuttered Sunoco, Shell and Chevron stations stretching from Tallahassee to Tacoma will be the inevitable result. Taking up prime real estate at busy intersections across the nation, these once-bustling fuel depots will become relics, an ubiquitous form of roadside blight.

Realistically, the nation’s forsaken filling stations will be razed to make way for new development. Or maybe they’ll be converted into fast-charging public EV hubs — after all, just because the pumps are gone doesn’t mean the adjacent convenience stores will become obsolete, too. (There’s little doubt that questionable gas station nachos and fountain soda will long outlive the internal combustion engine.)

But Reebok — yes, Rebebok — has an entirely different idea. What if gas stations rendered obsolete by the rise of electric and autonomous vehicle were transformed into community fitness hubs where people can “prioritize their mental and physical wellness?”

That’s the concept behind “Get Pumped,” a wellness-oriented adaptive reuse scheme that also manages to sneak in a reference to one of the hottest sneakers of the early 1990s. To explore exactly what this unlikely post-pump concept might look like, the Boston-based athletic footwear and apparel company — operated as a subsidiary of Germany-headquartered Adidas since 2005 — partnered with global architecture mega-firm Gensler.

“Reebok believes that we’re always training to be our best,” explains Austin Malleolo, head of Reebok fitness facilities, in a blog post published on the company’s website. “This design work with Gensler allows us to imagine a future where there is zero barrier to entry for an opportunity to work out and be healthy. Consumers may not need gas stations anymore, but instead of wasting them, we’re recycling them, and maximizing the space so that they become places of community.”

abandoned gas station
How would you reuse an old gas station? Ice cream shop? Trendy taco shack? Art gallery?. (Photo: Elvert Barnes/flickr)

The end of gas station hot dogs and cheap coffee?

In a way, this makes perfect sense. Because why not turn blighted neighborhood gas stations in primo locations into a network of community-bettering mini-gyms? It could be a whole lot worse. And there are certainly enough Starbucks locations as is.

But here’s the thing. Just because electric motors will eventually replace petrol-powered engines doesn’t mean cars are disappearing altogether anytime soon. For the unforeseeable future, drivers will still need and want a place to stretch their legs and maybe buy a bag of Combos, whether they're filling up or recharging. Will most motorists, even those driving better-for-the-planet cars, really want to make a pit stop for a quick yoga session and a fresh-squeezed carrot juice? Will a large-scale shift to EV ownership make everyone super health-conscious all of a sudden?

Reebok and Gensler would like to think so.

By taking advantage of a glut of available real estate in towns both large and teeny-tiny, the “Get Pumped” concept ensures that a venue to burn calories or consume a healthy meal is never more than just a quick drive away.

Not mentioned is the fact that in addition to transforming/reusing existing the old gas station itself, additional environmental remediation work has to be performed like removing underground gas tanks, cleaning the soil and on. (Abandoned gas stations are classified as petroleum brownfield sites by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.)

Says Gensler designer Alfred Byun: “We envision our cities of the future to have a network of fitness oases between home and work where you could stop and recharge more than just your car. Imagine an option to leave the traffic jam to unwind with yoga, get your Crossfit Fix, or pick up a green juice and your weekly farm share all in one place!”

And because gas depots can come in all shapes and sizes, Reebok and Gensler have envisioned three distinct types of roadside fitness centers.

An interstate gas station converted into a gym
The Network: Get your cardio in at a redeveloped interstate rest area. (Photo: Gensler)

The Network: Get your cardio in at a redeveloped interstate rest area. (Rendering: Gensler)

Replacing gas station-rest stop complexes found along major interstates, the Network would come complete with a fully equipped gym where motorists can generate their own energy via spinning, boxing, CrossFit and other sweat-inducing activities. Collectively, these old rest stops would function as the “power grid of the future.”

This highway-side gas station has gone healthy
The Oasis: Goodbye fried chicken, hello cold-pressed wheatgrass juice. (Photo: Gensler)

The Oasis: Goodbye fried chicken, hello cold-pressed wheatgrass juice. (Rendering: Gensler)

The Oasis is a reimagining of your average-sized gas station found along local highways. Swapping out hot dogs and diesel-grade coffee with farm-to-table fare and juice bars, these highway-side “recharge zones” would also include meditation pods, small yoga studios as well as herb gardens, rooftop jogging tracks and “outdoor wheels” where motorists can enjoy a bit of fresh air.

Reimagining of a local gas stations
The Community Center: Are small local gas stations the town squares of the future?. (Photo: Gensler)

The Community Center: Are small local gas stations the town squares of the future? (Rendering: Gensler)

Last but not least, small town gas stations — your local Stewart’s, Cumberland Farms, Holiday Stationstore or mom and pop-owned joint — will be reborn as EV charging station-equipped Community Centers. Nutrition classes, for example, would be held in what was once the auto repair garage. The mini-mart will essentially remain the same but with a greater emphasis on healthy and locally sourced snacks. What’s more, pop-up trucks offering spin and CrossFit classes would be conveniently parked right outside.

As Arlyn Vogelmann, a principal at Gensler’s Boston office, explains to Dezeen, the idea first arouse while the firm was finishing up work on Reebok’s shiny new headquarters in Boston’s Seaport District, which, of course, will feature a large on-site fitness facility. “At the close of the project, Reebok came to us with the idea of repurposing gas stations into on-the-go fitness centers," he explains.

While the partnership began as more or less a way to have a bit of fun and conjure up some eye-catching illustrations, Vogelmann goes on to note that the two companies are now exploring ways to bring the “Get Pumped” concept to life through pilot projects at already-shuttered gas stations.

“There would be a lot of stakeholders involved to make this a reality, like highway transit organisations and local and federal governments," Vogelmann tells Dezeen. “We work with a number of large-scale transportation clients, from ExxonMobil to airports, who could help move it along.”

“While it's still very much in the conceptual stage, we are optimistic that this project could evolve into a reality one day.”

Until that day comes, it’s $2.45 a gallon unleaded and WaWa hoagies for all.