SFO Water Filling Station


In August 2019, San Francisco International Airport (SFO) became the first in North America to ban the sale of single-use plastic water bottles, in line with its vision to reduce carbon emissions and become a zero waste-to-landfill facility by 2021. To support this initiative and improve guest experience, SFO commissioned Billings Jackson to design and deliver a new benchmark in Water Filling Stations, offering chilled, ambient and hot water.

The airport already had around 100 free water fountains but SFO wanted to go further in terms of amenity. Added to this, the design was developed as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and so the team incorporated social-distancing and best-in-class hygiene features to support health and safety measures, the most important of which is an entirely touch-free water delivery system.

The project was highly collaborative, with airport-wide stakeholder involvement throughout the concept, prototyping and testing phases. The team was led by Billings Jackson Design and comprised watercooler manufacturers, Blupura; wayfinding and user experience specialists, City ID; architects, Corgan; and contractor, Fisher Development.

An evidence-based approach was employed, analyzing passenger flow, movement and human behavior. This focus on user needs informed the location planning principles and water type provision as well as the ergonomics of the station and the tap design.

The tap itself is the first-of-its-kind and is exceptionally user-friendly. It was developed through close collaboration between Billings Jackson and Blupura and it features a large digital screen to provide visual directions, with user interface and iconography by City ID. The taps utilize touchless technology, using sensors and hand gestures to activate the water flow.

The Water Filling Station offers unprecedented fill speed with a smooth, laminar flow to prevent splashing. The water is triple filtered, with a 0.2-micron filter array and UVC disinfectant light filter in the feed and an additional UVC light in the tap head itself. This ensures the purity and clean taste of the drinking water.

The hot tap has a timed safety feature to minimize the risk of burns, and the temperature is precisely controlled for additional safety. The grille design helps users locate their bottle accurately under the nozzle and it has angled stainless-steel profiles to quickly draw any spills away. These safety measures also reduce maintenance, as does the monolithic design of the counter and the continuous shell of the tap itself. The materials used are Corian, stainless steel and glass, which are robust and easy to clean.

To improve user experience, the stations will be located where they are most needed, beyond security and in food courts and seating areas rather than alongside the restrooms. They are fully ADA-compliant and designed to promote social distancing and the design is modular, giving the airport absolute flexibility in the configuration of the furniture, the number of taps it holds and the type of water dispensed. The first six-tap station is now in place, with more to follow across the whole airport estate.