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Dwell Magazine
October 2001

By Virginia Gardiner

Photography by
Jeff Jacobson

When Amazing Houses Happen to Ordinary Cities

When Thomas Adams, director of the Bethany Place facility for people with HIV, called architects Philip Durham and Elva Rubio to say he wanted to build the new facility inside two Quonset huts, they thought he was crazy. "Most people do," confesses Adams. "But when Phil came and saw how open the space was, he said, 'This will work.' "

Adams and the architects had considered 12 sites but had trouble securing one. "It had to do with local politics," Durham explains. "Belleville is a conservative town. An AIDS housing facility was a tough sell there."

In 1997, Rubio|Durham began to renovate the huts. They repaired exterior rust and dealt with abatement issues such as asbestos and lead paint. By 1999, the project was finished. Five bedrooms, a living area, and kitchen now fill the rear hut; the front houses a wide-open reception area and offices for case workers, project managers, and a nurse. A glass atrium connects the two huts. Windows on many levels fill the space with sunshine all day and, at night, radiate light onto the street.

Outside of New York and San Francisco, Bethany Place is one of the few HIV support facilities that provides transitional housing, along with day services. "At most AIDS service organizations, the services are not consolidated--clients have a series of places where they have to go. People tire. So they dropout of the system, or they get lost. We made a one-stop shop, because it just made sense."

The building is so distinctive that it lures passersby. "Now," says Adams, "other organizations borrow the space. Before, other people would never set foot in Bethany Place. They said, 'If I go to Bethany Place, then it looks like I have AIDS.' But now they come in and say, 'What a great place. We want to be involved.'

" I was on the Metrolink and ran into one of my clients," Adams recalls. "He turned to me and said, "Thank you for that beautiful building. Every time I walk into it, it's beautiful."