There’s a green revolution happening in vehicle showrooms and it doesn’t involve the cars these places sell, but the buildings themselves.
Traditionally these places have been energy hungry. Generally they have large areas of glass, and take a lot of power to heat in the winter, but that glass is great at soaking up summer heat, so keeping them cool then is an energy sapping business too. The same goes for their workshops, which often have roller shutter doors. When its cold outside and one of these things is slowly rolled out of the way it leaves a big hole in the side of the building for all the heat to rush out. Car dealerships guzzle electricity, heating oil and of course water, because many of them have valeting bays where jets of the stuff get squirted at cars to make them shine.
Now the people who design and build car showrooms are looking at ways to make them more efficient, and have come up with some interesting and ingenious ideas.
Drive down the not entirely lovely A10 in Enfield (apologies if you live there, but it’s not Venice, is it?) and you will see Jemca Toyota’s showroom, which looks like any other glass and steel box with new cars in it, but is stuffed with energy saving features, from blinds that automatically deploy when it gets hot to cut showroom heat, and the need for air conditioning, to workshop roller shutters that rush and down to reduce heat loss.
It shares a bunch of other energy saving features with the equally exotic Motorline Volkswagen Coulsdon, which might not have the presence of the window cleaner’s nightmare that is London’s Shard tower, but in its own modest way it’s also a visual ode to modern glazing techniques, as the glass panels it uses react to sunlight to keep the interior temperature constant.
Head for the outskirts of Swindon and you might miss TH White’s Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Chrysler showroom. Its frontage is decorated with large stones ploughed up by local farmers, something that would normally be a cause of agricultural irritation. Fencing that looks like wood is actually made from re-cycled plastic. A car dealership has a lot of hard standing, which creates a great deal of rain water run off, so a pond was created behind this one, in what is essentially a small nature reserve with bird boxes.
Should I bang on about the solar panels, heat exchangers, water harvesting and waste oil heating systems, or that in common with many showrooms, this one send a lot of its waste from pallets to cardboard, rubbers and plastics, for re-cycling, or that a lot of it was designed in house?
Tucked away in the Wiltshire countryside is perhaps the most unlikely green car showroom of all, in the shape of a Morgan dealer called Williams Automobiles, which trades from a converted stable block. It’s run by Henry Williams with help from his dad Richard, whose family has been selling cars for the past hundred years. The pair designed and pretty much built the place themselves, fitting a heat exchanger, wood fired heating, and even, lucky them, a sewage digester. The total yearly heating bill for the end result, which has a staff of eleven, was £900.
For reasons of pragmatism, economy, and increasingly building regulations, many of the newest showrooms are having a lot of features like these built in to them, and are no longer the gaudy gin palaces of motoring folklore. So, if you want to see some of the best modern industrial architecture going, you could do worse than consider buying a car.