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JZA+D flips a former gas station’s modernist architecture into a sleek indoor/outdoor pizza joint.

When it comes to adaptive reuses, it helps if designers can see the swan in the ugly duckling. Case in point: a former gas station that Joshua Zinder Architecture + Design LLC (JZA+D) converted into a sleek pizzeria in its hometown of Princeton, New Jersey.

To the casual observer, the building that’s now home to Nomad Pizza was just a mundane box in its earlier, auto-related incarnation. But to the trained eye of JZA+D founder Joshua Zinder, it represents “a rather elegant example of 1930s modernism.”

Still, turning it into a destination dining spot involved overcoming several challenges. For example, the drive-through service bays and large garage doors didn’t lend themselves naturally to use in a foodservice venue. To overcome that, Zinder and his team closed off the bays and portals at the rear with a facade of cedar and storefront glazing, and installed custom doors on the front to take advantage of the original garage openings.

“This let us extend the dining area into an awning-covered patio during warmer months,” Zinder says.

In addition, the redesign reversed the front and back of the facility. “Where the gas station had fronted onto the main road, the entrance to the restaurant instead faces a neighboring shopping center,” Zinder notes.

Intrigued by this kind of project? You could well get the chance to work on one, as the number of gas stations in the U.S. has dropped from a high of about 202,000 in the mid 1990s to about 150,000 in more recent years, according to NACS-The Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing. That stat suggests numerous vacant stations are out there, awaiting a new lease on life.