Design - May 2010

Facelift or Major Rehab —
Making Old New Again
By Peter F. Pulice

Stratford exterior before.
Stratford exterior after.
Stratford interior before.
Stratford interior after.
Sayreville exterior before.
Sayreville exterior after.
The car wash remained open during reconstruction.
The Sayreville interior has a high-tech look.
A wall of glass looks onto the tunnel.

Rehabilitating an existing car wash doesn’t have to be a daunting task. With the help of an architect experienced in car wash design and planning, the entire process can be made easier and relatively stress free. There are numerous areas that must be addressed in the rehab of a car wash. An architect can help navigate the requirements and mandates for any number of issues including zoning approvals, ADA accessibility, building code compliance, site planning, and interior design.

The approach to revitalize a car wash facility is a team effort between the architect and operator. If zoning variances are required in the new design scheme, the architect can serve as the “coach,” coordinating the services of a land-use attorney and site engineer. Totally new car wash facilities often require major site-plan approvals from a municipal jurisdiction or local and/or state agency planning board. In addition to creating the design and image to be projected to the community, the architect will assist with the behind-the-scenes requirements. Usually, the site-plan drawings will illustrate, for example, queuing of vehicles, ingress/egress to the site, signage, landscaping, and parking.

In the past, it has been our experience that the rehab of an existing car wash with an exterior/interior facelift and wash equipment change can usually be accomplished with construction plans submitted to the local building department. However, individual municipalities or cities may require pre-approval or a site-plan review prior to issuing a building permit. It is therefore essential that the architect investigate the local requirements with a construction/zoning official prior to the start of any design.


Pulice/Williams Architects recently had the opportunity to complete two car wash projects for the Markowitz family in New Jersey. Each project required totally different approvals. The Stratford site was an antiquated early 1970s one-story 100-foot mechanical conveyor wash with a flanking seven-bay service building located on White Horse Pike. The client saw a great opportunity to transform the existing car wash, situated on the busy traffic corridor leading to Philadelphia, into a bold new state-of-the-art car wash facility. Faced with an existing building structure of non-descript lackluster design, the client retained us to create a design concept for a totally new and renovated car wash, lube facility, and retail establishment.

New Image
The concept for the Stratford Posh Car Wash was to introduce color, height, and articulation to the existing building. Large porcelain tiles in brilliant hues of blue, orange, and grey were used to clad the existing façade and “energize” the building. The façade was extended vertically in order to add interest and definition to the building functions of a car wash, express lube, and innovative drive-thru convenience store. New signage was designed to complement the building and new image.

Upon meeting with Stratford Township officials, it was confirmed that site plan approval was needed. Even though car wash/automobile repair uses were permitted in the zone, a site plan was developed to address automobile queuing, parking, on-site vehicle circulation, ADA compliance, landscaping, signage, building lighting, and site rehabilitation. A site engineer was retained to delineate site improvements, traffic circulation, parking, and site drainage. The next step was to prepare architectural renderings to illustrate the transformation of the building exterior with new building materials and textures. The final member to join the team was a land-use attorney who presented the project at the municipal public hearing. By New Jersey law, a corporation must be represented by an attorney when appearing before a municipal board.


The most recent project was the Posh Car Wash located on Route 9 in Sayreville. This location had been updated once before. In 2001, we were retained to simply improve the exterior aesthetics and the design with minor interior renovations. Upon doing the research, no pre-approvals were required at that time, and a building permit was secured very quickly and construction was completed.

Lube Add-On
Seven years later, the Markowitz family wanted to explore the possibilities of adding an attached oil change/lube facility to the existing car wash building. After taking over the car wash in 2001, Posh had built up a solid clientele that were now asking for more comprehensive car care services. We prepared schematic concept plans for the client’s review. This project would require zoning board approvals for bulk variances. A site engineer and land-use attorney were retained to prepare the necessary plans and applications for municipal approval. In the interim, we were busy fast tracking the project with lube center vendors (i.e. service equipment, oil storage tanks, waste-oil handling, inventory etc.). Within 120 days, municipal approvals were granted and construction drawings started for bidding out the project.

Requirements for this new Posh Car Wash were a two-bay “quad” oil lube addition along with a total update and “facelift” of the existing car wash. It offered us the opportunity to utilize the latest in technology and building techniques. The car wash had to remain open during the construction phase. Phasing and carefully scheduling the work met this challenge. Construction barriers and protection were installed so as not to endanger the public or adjacent properties. The work also included the replacement of the metal roof deck over the car wash. The deck had deteriorated from high moisture and humidity. Temporary protection was created while the roof was replaced with a new roof membrane and metal decking.

New Look Outside
For the exterior design, we created a natural aluminum fascia around the building’s exterior illuminated from behind with fluorescent lighting. In the evening, the building appears to “glow.” The new exterior façade cladding is a bright orange high-pressure laminate — Material Exterior Grade (MEG) — manufactured by Abet Laminati. This particular material was chosen for its outstanding durability, high-impact properties, and ease of maintenance. It is also an environmentally friendly product. The exterior of Posh was further enhanced with new landscaping, LED signage, and architectural lighting.

High-Tech Inside
The interior design concept was to expose all structural and mechanical elements for a clean high-tech look. Paint colors for wall surfaces and soffits are bright vibrant shades of red, orange, and purple combined with the cooler shades of grey and white. High-efficiency lighting, use of LEDs for signage, and reflective insulated 1-inch butt glazing for second floor business offices were also incorporated into the new design. The overall look is one of openness and modern state-of-the-art technology. Customers can view their cars receiving services (a wash, auto maintenance, or detailing) through the butt glazed interior panoramic glass. While they wait, customers can relax in lounges appointed with flat-screen televisions, free Internet access, and a coffee bar.


A car wash is a destination for many services including detailing, automobile maintenance, and shopping at the convenience store. In today’s economic climate, many of our clients have opted to rehab an existing car wash with a fresh exterior façade, interior renovations, and new equipment instead of the more costly and complicated process of building an entirely new car wash facility. With the expertise of an architect, a car wash owner can rehab and “recreate” an existing facility, and provide the community with an exciting new car care center.

The principal of Pulice/Williams Architects, Peter F. Pulice is a licensed architect, interior designer, and professional planner. He has been in private practice for 25 years along with partner, Phil Williams, and is a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB); he is licensed to practice architecture in New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Illinois. You can contact the firm at (201) 461-5154.

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