San Francisco AmeniPODS
Since 1995, San Francisco Public Works has provided a series of public amenities located throughout the city, including toilets, advertising, interactive information and micro-retail kiosks. These compact structures are spread throughout the city and concentrated along Market Street, downtown and in popular tourist destinations. The combined amenities are part of a program contracted with street furniture company JCDecaux, which funds construction, installation and daily maintenance at no cost to the city. The company also funds staffing of the toilets at select locations under San Francisco Public Works’ Pit Stop program. The cost of these efforts is offset by the advertising and retail revenues. In 2018, after an invitation-only design competition to redesign and re-envision the amenities, SmithGroup’s innovative design was chosen for development and implementation.
In order to keep the city’s public spaces safe, clean and welcoming for residents, workers and visitors, it has become clear that public amenities, such as toilets, are a priority. These amenities have become an integral part of this effort and represent the ideals of universal access and providing basic needs with dignity. The Pit Stop program component features attendants that are trained to help connect unhoused persons to services and to help motivate those with a substance use disorder or a mental health issue to seek treatment. The attendant worker program itself provides an opportunity for residents facing barriers to employment to earn a living wage.
With a clear awareness of the importance of these public amenities in our urban environment, the SmithGroup team set out to make these updated street furniture elements more accessible and approachable through their design and appearance. The new public toilets will be unique to San Francisco, with a design that blends sculpture and technology to create a cleaner, safer and more hygienic experience. The updated design also shows an understanding of the maintenance requirements in a varied urban environment. The exterior shell was conceived as a kit-of-parts, with a small number of repeated panels that come together to shape the minimalist, organic forms.
The AmeniPODS look to sculptural simplicity as a guide for design and engineering decisions. Their mottled, polished exterior cladding creates a connected family of amenities that take on different appearances depending on the nature of their surroundings reflected on the units. The specific shaping of the form navigates accessibility requirements, breaks down the kiosk massing and maximizes the artistic reflections of people and place. The upper curves seamlessly continue below to form the shaped, protective concrete base. The re-envisioned restrooms improve upon performance and sustainability with multiple updates including the addition of interior skylights, low-flow fixtures and rainwater collection for washing the exterior shell.
The new urban public amenities come at a time of post-pandemic rebirth of street life in San Francisco. Today, safe hygienic public space is of the utmost importance. The new amenities represent an essential part of a larger solution to the continuing city challenges. They literally reflect San Francisco’s diverse neighborhoods with their deep-rooted history while creating sculptural street furniture additions to our urban landscape that are forward-looking.