Commercial awnings have a long and colourful history, first recorded in ancient Syria and Egypt, where woven fabrics and hides were hoisted on poles to provide much-needed shade for market stalls. The first awnings to appear in the west during the 1800s, many of them rough structures of canvas nailed to wood.
Today they are everywhere, adorning high streets in a plethora of colours and designs, forming an integral part of a company’s branding. Some commercial awnings have become iconic, with a lucky few even becoming a part of history.
Petrol Stations and Punk Clubs
The special fascination we have with signage and awnings can be illustrated with two very different canopy preservation projects. In the UK, petrol stations were, and still are, one of the most prominent landmarks because of their large canopies and associated signage. Whether it sported the yellow Shell logo, the simple blue ellipse of ESSO or the white star of Texaco, the petrol station canopy was an oasis for the weary traveller and a landmark for directions to an unfamiliar town or city. In recognition of the importance of these canopies as a cultural treasure, many are now Grade II listed, including the overlapping ESSO canopies well-known to A6 users.
Over the pond in New York, there was once a little music club that became a hotbed of punk and became known for its white canopy and red lettering. CBGB’s closed in 2006, but its awning lives on, preserved for austerity in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The above examples are proof that awnings can evolve to become far more than protective coverings, and that doesn’t apply just to unusual canopies or cafes and rock clubs.
One of the most recognisable awnings in London, and one which requires English Heritage approval to alter, is Harrod’s trademark green canvas canopy with its small, hand-written signature logo. It has recently been given a new bronze backboard which, along with the rich coloration, evokes thoughts of wealth and class. Green is often associated with money, and it is interesting to note that Starbucks have also gone for a green canopy design on many of its shopfronts, albeit with a more modern, clean design.
Chic on Regent Street
On the subject of modern and clean, there are few rivals to the boutique stores of Chanel and Hugo Boss on Regent Street. Based on the classic Victorian awning, these simple white-on-black and black-on-white canopies with concealed fixings are both neat and elegant.
Subway: Bold and Bright
In contrast, the Subway chain often go for in-your-face prominence with awnings featuring large, bold signage, sometimes incorporating lighting for practical as well as branding reasons.