The Seattle Street Sink
Architecture Firm: Elizabeth Golden and Richard Mohler, University of Washington
Owner: Real Change/Tiffani McCoy
Category: up to $250,000 in construction cost
Seattle is the nation’s 18th largest city, but it has the third-largest population of people experiencing homelessness. When Washington State enacted its stay-at-home orders during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, that vulnerable population was left with few opportunities to wash their hands in business restrooms and other public buildings. Seattle initially responded with temporary stations that proved inadequate in number and required the constant emptying of gray water.
"The project is an exceptionally resourceful and clever approach to an urgent basic need. By tapping into (no pun intended) existing infrastructure, the design approach resonates on a range of implementation scales that is highly site and context-specific." - Jury comment
This project, a collaboration with Real Change, an advocacy group serving the homeless, offers a design for hand-washing stations that can be assembled from readily available parts by unskilled volunteers equipped with simple tools. Using hose bibs as a water supply and treating gray water on-site, the Street Sink remedies the issues of the city’s temporary stations. A cadre of community groups, faith-based organizations, and volunteers host and maintain the sinks on private property, avoiding any bureaucracy and forging new community connections. Modest and impactful, the Street Sink has improved the lives and health of those most affected by the pandemic.
The team developed two sink designs that support hand and clothes washing in a utility sink basin, one of which is accessible to children and those who use wheelchairs. Both can be assembled from parts ranging between $400 and $750, and a companion website provides a part list and DIY videos.
Eschewing the many expensive custom hand-washing stations that debuted during the pandemic, the Street Sink is a grassroots effort that has been replicated on the East Coast. However, its success is best demonstrated by Seattle’s $100,000 commitment to fund Street Sink installations in all nine city council districts.