Design - August 2003

The Car Wash Site - Image and Layout
The Building as Brand Image

By Ed Copeland

(Top) Architect's drawing: west elevation (Center)
West elevation rendering (Bottom) West elevation - the real thing.

This project got its start when Tim Bednar, one of the owners, approached CamargoCopeland Architects with an idea for a car wash that he intended to develop in a growing area of Plano, TX, a northern suburb of Dallas. Tim wanted a facility that would fill the gap in the local car wash market, maximize his funding, and still be a "cut above" those offering an express car wash service. The owners knew going into the project that they wanted to set their concept apart from the competition not only
in terms of service, but also architecturally. That is why they approached CamargoCopeland Architects, a firm capable of and experienced with prototype image development, rather than an architect experienced solely with the production of car washes.


In a competitive retail market, visibility and brand recognition is critical for a newcomer. You must be noticed! But not just noticed -you must stand out in the sea of signs, retail centers and visual clutter that abounds in every suburban retail district. One way of distinguishing your brand is to turn your building into an icon -interesting, visible, and brand solidifying.

As ever-increasing signage restrictions become the norm, the building's form has become more and more important to savvy retailers when considering branding. One inherent question that was considered at the early stages of development of the Fountain Car Wash project was how to create a structure that proclaims "car wash" in a unique and satisfying way. Our goal was to create a dynamic visual icon that was architecturally successful and easily identifiable by the consumer.


CamargoCopeland approached the building's design by capitalizing on the owners' idea and their chosen name, Fountain Car Wash. We needed an icon to express the branding of the building - a device that evoked water and movement. The "Fountain" is represented through the concept of a wave, similar to that created by water as it is falling into a fountain basin.

While there were many building elements that we could have utilized to represent this concept, we chose the roof as our instrument for the analogy of the use of water and the associated activity occurring within the building. The roof was the most impactful of the available options as all of Fountain Car Wash's core business (the water tunnel) occurred under this very roof.

The roof was formed into the shape of a wave using a web-polymer roofing material placed on an undulating steel structure of rolled pipe. The polymer roofing is a translucent material that allows natural day lighting during the day and, through artificial up-lighting, affords a warm glow during dusk and night times. Using the roof as the focal point, CamargoCopeland achieved the owner's brand recognition goal by providing eye candy to the potential consumers passing by at 40 miles per hour.

There are two other main elements within the building:

o The manager's office and equipment room form the backdrop for the wave.
o The attendant's station is positioned within the tower/signage element.

All of the structural walls are split-faced concrete masonry units, giving the entire building a water-resistant and durable envelope, as well as an upgraded finish and visual texture.

The self-service portions of the facility were placed to the rear of the building so that the natural progression of the site would be ordered -automated car wash, vacuums, and then self-serve car wash. Vending is integrated into the automated car wash and at the self-serve car wash, thus ensuring convenient access to vending from each facility.


One issue that was affected by the proposed design of the building was the building's site orientation. With a design element such as the roof, would the normal orientation convention of facing the exit portal to the street be suitable? This led to further discussion on the issues of car queuing and its pros and cons. The main question: Is it good for the customer to see cars lining up at the facility? Will our audience interpret the queue as "open for business" or "the line is too long - I don't want to wait."

The industry standard has always oriented the site such that the building is perpendicular to the street: the dirty cars queue up at the back of the lot out of consumer sight lines and customers view only the clean cars coming out of the tunnel. This orientation has been the norm in the industry because of the idea that clean cars leaving the facility will generate a flurry of activity and stir excitement within the target consumers. Ultimately, the queuing of the cars became a non-issue for Fountain Car Wash.

CamargoCopeland and the owners decided to orient the building close and parallel to the street and allow visual access into the building across its entire length. By lining the length of the building with storefront windows, the building becomes the focus and consumer excitement is centered on the visible washing activity within the building, rather than cars entering or leaving the building. The massing of the equipment room quickly developed as a backdrop to the wave while the attendant's station evolved into a "bookend" tower/signage element.

Philosophically, the owners bought into the concept that the visual interest in the perspective of the wave and the opportunity to showcase the movement of cars being washed would be just as powerful,
if not more so, in generating traffic. This break in tradition for site orientation allowed our team to further develop the concept of the building as an icon.


How does the building say "open for business"? To enhance its visibility to passing motorists, CamargoCopeland accentuated the image of the "wave" by raising the roof plate at the equipment room. Additionally, the street-side wall is a viewing wall, with glass along the entire length allowing the inner workings of the wash to be visible. Special lighting was added to emphasize the movement within the water tunnel during dusk and evenings when the natural light level is low. After hours, the building serves as its own billboard, and a standing icon of Fountain Car Wash.


Some of the logistical issues explored during the project were whether the site was large enough to accommodate an iconic building, potential traffic dimensions, and the myriad of self-service stations. Once the site orientation was decided, there were the choices of roof options - to wave or not to wave - and selecting the kind of material that would best serve the owners' needs, both functionally and architecturally.

CamargoCopeland addressed the site size issues by using computer modeling, as well as utilizing a full-scale model of the driving areas needed. By utilizing the top level of the parking garage deck next to our offices, we were not only able to drive the proposed course, but were also able to view the course from eight floors above, giving us a unique vantage point of the proposed site plan. This was critical due to the constraints of the site. "Rule-of-thumb" traffic dimension such as lane widths and turning radii standards could not be relied upon with the complexities of the conveyor track system and today's large pick-ups and SUVs. We also went to the site and drew the turning radii in chalk and test-drove on site with
the largest SUV to make sure the building would fit on the site.

To explore the building's potential as an icon, CamargoCopeland utilized computer-generated and physical modeling to study building massing and sight-line issues and opportunities.

We also used these tools to study the building and its details with different roofing options and solutions - which validated the effectiveness of the building "wave" as an icon.

As with all projects, the contributing parties make the difference. With clients who were willing to push
for a strong design solution, Fountain Car Wash came to life as a fun and dynamic project whose architecture speaks to its function, and evokes from every passerby: "I want to go there!"

Ed Copeland is a registered architect and the partner in charge of retail development at CamargoCopeland Architects, LLP. Ed's background is in construction and technology and has degrees from the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of Houston.


Tim Bednar
Bret Gaston
Ted Revis

CamargoCopeland Architects, LLP
E. J. Copeland, AIA - Partner in Charge
Barry Hand, AIA - Design Architect & Associate
Randy Barnett - Project Manager

Structural Engineer
The Structural Engineering Consultants - Greg Riley

Mechanical Electrical and Plumbing Engineering
Don Penn Consulting Engineers - Don Penn

Civil Engineer
Helmberger & Associates - Joe Helmberger

The Program

• Automated car wash facility - automated tunnel
• Upscale facility on major thoroughfare
• Limited site area
• Covered vacuum stations - approximately 15
• Covered self-wash stations - approximately 6 to 8
• Vending

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