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Treatment in a new light

October 1, 2007
by Gary A. Enos, Contributing Editor
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A New York City organization creates a life-affirming space for addiction detox and rehabilitation

The dawning of a new day was actually three years in the making for the design of Promesa, Inc.'s new addiction detoxification and rehabilitation space, a program that the agency refers to with a name that means “dawn” in Spanish. A project team met weekly since 2004 as it developed a vision for a renovated treatment facility in New York City that would offer something far removed from the typical hospital-like feel. The resulting “Amanecer” program in the Bronx opened to patients in June.

Photography © Bjorg Magnea

“We worked with our architect to articulate what we wanted to accomplish,” says Lisa Garay, Promesa's chief operating officer. “In our use of colors, textures, and finishes, we wanted to move away from an institutional look.”

The firm that designed the renovation, Guenther 5 Architects, PLLC, believes design can be linked closely to the mission of an organization. In this case, Promesa was out to create a warm, life-affirming environment for patients addicted to alcohol, opiates, or benzodiazepines. A careful combination of earth tones and bolder colors, along with access to exterior views and outdoor light in nearly all rooms, helped greatly to achieve this, explains Peter Syrett, principal of Guenther 5.

Some of the center's features look like they would be more commonly seen in a hotel or modern office building. In the facility's dining area, a thick red column made of glass tiles descends from a cutout in the ceiling, offering both a visual and tactile experience. Sleek tiling and contemporary mirrors in the patient bathrooms give the feel of a signature bathroom concept for a trendy restaurant.

“Promesa always talked about creating something that was colorful, bright, and active,” Syrett says of the overall design concept.

Along with the architect, general contractor, and Promesa's clinical staff, the treatment organization's administrators kept in close communication with the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services over the course of the project. The project was financed by Promesa and OASAS, which has prioritized the establishment of a seamless public continuum of care for people with addictions.

The renovated space in the Bronx is divided into sections serving patients in a five-day detox program and a 21-day rehabilitation track. Emphasizing continuity of treatment, the patient's physical environment remains relatively consistent as the move from detox to rehabilitation is negotiated. “We needed to make sure there wasn't a sense of the amenities shifting between the programs,” Syrett says.

One difference between how the two programs are situated lies in the rehab section being connected directly to a somewhat surprising outdoor space: a rooftop patio that offers the more mobile rehab patients easy access to fresh air and views of a city park and apartments. Benches and planters adorn the patio area, offering a respite of sorts from the feel of the urban environment below.

The design's use of materials also plays an important role in conveying the proper message, as those involved with the project believe the materials used should not pose a conflict with the facility's mission. “You wouldn't want to put a known carcinogen in a cancer center, for instance,” Syrett says. The project team for Amanecer sought to avoid environmental hazards in a space designed to emphasize recovery and wellness. The fact that flooring can be cleaned with a mop and water with no chemicals contributes to indoor air quality. Windows yield not only light but are fully operable for patients and staff. The noninstitutional feel came through immediately for some of Promesa's referral sources when they toured the space before it opened to patients. “People were smiling when they went through here,” Garay says. “We're showing how much we care about the people who come into the facility.”

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