O2O4W: Oxygen House in the Old Fourth Ward District


O2O4W: Oxygen House in the Old Fourth Ward District


Laura Sherman
Kennesaw State University


Edwin E. Akins II
Kennesaw State University



This winning project's site location, a Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial site, is a sensible choice for the lung cancer community center. The adaptive reuse of an underutilized pool and historical context set the stage for the underscored incorporation of simple, elegant and sophisticated details of the project. The comprehensive environmental design with layers of thought and sensitivity to the user is articulate.


O2O4W (Oxygen House in the Old Fourth Ward District) is a lung cancer community center project in the heart of Atlanta's historic Martin Luther King Jr. memorial site. The project is an adaptive reuse of demolished MLK Natatorium building footprint. The site is on an inaccessible inward-facing urban block at the bottom of a 14' retaining wall. Urban context is unified by a building program that addresses a highly-private program of lung cancer patient consultation and is fortified with a supporting community center. Through creating a "breathing building", the architecture takes a net-zero stance against a continuing trend of pollution in Atlanta, GA. The building systems feature a south-facing double skin integrated with HVAC. The project cantilevers the upper level program to create a gateway into a previously inaccessible urban block and invites the community into an activated MLK plaza.

The design of the lung cancer patient care and community center conceptually parallels the counterpoints of earth and sky as two contrasting elements that defy and define the other. Emotional consultation of the individual must exist on a separate realm from the socially active community but also work in the community as a social tectonic. The ground level community center acts as a support to the elevated, upper level patient care. The concept takes root in Martin Heidegger’s theory of fourfold as mentioned in his book “Building, Dwelling, Thinking”. The building seeks to provide a refuge of clean air and peace while raising awareness of the continuing trend of pollution in Atlanta to the community.

1:   Design and Innovation

The low-emission design of a lung cancer and community center is a step towards the goals of Architecture 2030 and also a symbol of solidarity with those harmed by the increasing pollution of the city.  The goals of O2O4W prioritize the lung cancer patients and community of Atlanta, Georgia. Atlanta was ranked one of the highest polluted cities in 2014 by year round particle pollution. The building addresses the root causes of lung cancer by raising public awareness of those affected by carbon emissions. The concept of a “breathing building” is engaged through air movement and passive systems, as the poche of the wall becomes a device for air purification. The south-facing double skin operates as a passive collection of plenums that distribute the purified air for the HVAC intake and for the city at large.

The design of the lung cancer patient care and community center conceptually parallels the counterpoints of earth and sky as two contrasting elements that defy and define the other. Emotional consultation of the individual must exist on a separate realm from the socially active community but also work in the community as a social tectonic. The ground level community center acts as a support to the elevated, upper level patient care. The concept takes root in Martin Heidegger’s theory of fourfold as mentioned in his book “Building, Dwelling, Thinking”. The building seeks to provide a refuge of clean air and peace while raising awareness of the continuing trend of pollution in Atlanta to the community.

2:   Regional/Community Design

Urban analysis of the site revealed detrimental oversights in planning. Adjacent buildings lacked street entrances and the MLK museum entrance faced a retaining wall with no through access. The design pays respect to the rich history of the MLK complex and carves a grand public gateway to the inward-facing block. In order to landscape a reclaimed site, the building design is “plugged” into the earth to minimize backfill. Additionally, the building features an adaptive reuse of land left by the demolished MLK natatorium. The old natatorium was Atlanta’s oldest natatorium and was built on top of a massive warehouse dating to the 1920s, which resulted in its structural failure. By inserting the design into the original footprint, resources are saved from wastefully backfilling the entire lot. The redefined landscape provides bus stop accessibility to the King Memorial MARTA Station. The building utilizes a northern zero-lot line by providing expansion space for Hope Hill Elementary school and its rec center. To encourage use of the highly-available public transportation and due to excessive adjacent parking lots, a bus lane has been created in lieu of a parking lot.

3:   Land Use and Site Ecology

The site is one of the lowest points of topography on an urban scale. With this in consideration, water management should be considered beyond the property line. A naturally-filtered pool that relies on a Living Machine Water Treatment system stores mass amounts of city runoff. The south-exposed pool acts as a thermal mass for geothermal loops. The Living Machine wetland beds use native Georgia vegetation with filtration properties and an underground anaerobic reactor placed before construction. Native trees, shrubs and grasses create microclimates of breathable air for cancer patients. Deciduous Red Maple is used as a shading device in front of the south-facing double-skin. Endangered native plant species that are threatened due to a loss of habitat, have been selected for the wetland beds such as Swamp Pink and Kral’s water plantain along with other filtrating species. The tree-lined walkway will be planted with endangered Small whorled pogonia. Wetland beds, a natural pool and native vegetation seek to mitigate and store over 35,000 cubic feet of water.

4:   Bioclimatic Design

The square shape of the site and 20’ grid of the urban block allow for solar optimization of building form. The building maximizes southern exposure through an ideal east-west orientation for solar gain during the 56% of the year that falls below the comfort zone. A multi-story double skin on the south face takes advantage of these solar heat gains and conversely, opens to mitigate heat during summer. The east and west glazing are shaded by overhanging eaves and cantilevered upper floor in order to maximize views, street presence and adhere to the minimum 60% fenestration required on Boulevard.

Reading the data for Climate Region 10 of Lechner’s 17 climate regions, Atlanta has a comfortable period of 16% annually to implement passive strategies. During this period, the atrium becomes a stack vent for rooms to cross ventilate. The intense overheated period is 28% of the year and a sealed building envelope is the best response to Atlanta’s humid climate. During this period, the efficiency of the building systems becomes critical.

5:   Light and Air

The atrium maximizes daylighting through a northern curtain wall, southern double skin and a dissolved ceiling plane that uses a sawtooth daylighting system opening to the north. Building-integrated photovoltaics use the sawtooth angle to power electrical lighting. The multi-story double skin and roof daylighting system flood light into the reception corridor shared by patients and the public. Skylights with internal reflectors draw daylight into the community room and consultation rooms. These daylighting systems allow 72% of the building to be naturally lit during occupied hours. The high fenestration ratio gives 46.6% of the floor area views to outdoors and 32% of the floor area within 15’ of an operable window.

A constant design challenge in Atlanta, especially with lung cancer care, is handling air that is humid and polluted during the summer. The normative double skin has been modified as a multifunction plenum that operates to a winter and summer mode that responds to the end of the overheated period, September 21st. Both modes are automated and have the option of pulling from a multi-phase air filter in the poche of the wall. It uses native vegetation and a series of filters to improve indoor air quality. During the winter, the double skin caps off and convection currents form as it becomes heated by the winter sun. The sealed air space creates insulation for the building as well as having an intake at the top for buoyant, hot air to collect. To respond to the intense summers of Atlanta, it opens to take in filtered air from the windward west face of the building, then intake into the HVAC at the ground level to be cooled beneath the earth or enter a plenum that passively exhausts the air via stack ventilation. This is done by a wing at the top of the double skin that uses the Venturi effect to create a pressure differential and by maximizing the height of the skin to raise the thermal neutral axis and use wind created by Bernoulli’s Principle. The heat differential is increased by tinting the top of the glass. The wing for exhausting summer air is seamlessly integrated with the array of sawtooth daylights. This modified skin also houses a split elevator shaft, evacuated solar tubes and the heat recovery ventilator.

6:   Water Cycle

The site is on a critical point for stormwater runoff control due to its low point of topography and it is located at a point where Boulevard drains. The previous structure on this site experienced issues with proper drainage and water pooling. Atlanta’s rainfall intensity on a 10-year period is 7.3in/hr. The site has an opportunity to take advantage of the water collection potential and act as a filter to prevent flooding of the MLK complex. The site manages 100% of water on site and gains another 240% from off-site forces and flows. This assists mitigation of the district’s runoff within building. This is due to the storage capacities designed through wetland beds, a natural pool, extensive green roof, permeable pavers and native vegetation that thrives in wet regions of Georgia. Water that has been collected in the stormwater catchment basin is stored in two 10,000gal cisterns, then is filtered through an anaerobic reactor chamber, through a series of filtration beds, and finally to a clarifier and ecological fluid bed to be used as potable water throughout the building. The calculated cubic feet of stored water is 35,347 cf.

7:   Energy Flows and Energy Future

The building synergistically uses a highly-integrated system of a double-skin, HVAC and geothermal loops to heat and cool during the 84% of the year which is out of the bioclimatic comfort zone. The automated system responds to the external temperature via an automated system powered by the 33.7º latitude-tilted building-integrated photovoltaics. One set of the geothermal loops are to be installed during the partial backfill of the site to reduce construction energy output and the other set runs on the floor of the pool. The automated building system may pull from both thermal masses. The water as a thermal mass has a temperature of 48-56ºF with horizontal loops at a minimum depth of 8’ and the earth mass ranges from 45-60 ºF with vertical loops at 6’ below grade in this climate region according to the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association. The EUI median value according to Energy Star is 148.1 kbtu/ft2   and the building’s designed EUI is 50 kbtu/ft2 due to reduction in energy consumption through daylighting.

8:   Materials and Construction

The material choice contrasts the brick masonry of the context and distinguishes itself from the historic block. This complies with the regulations of the Martin Luther King, Jr. District in Sec. 16-20C.008.3. The demolition aggregate of the concrete Old MLK Natatorium is reused in the new foundation and concrete load-bearing walls that carry a steel frame elevated above the site. Light-frame elements are made of cross-laminated timber, which is a highly renewable resource taken from sustainably managed forests. The resilience of the concrete and steel cantilever opens a permanent path to the MLK Museum. The CLT is whitewashed with a matte finish on the exterior and interior. The interior whitewashed wood evokes a sense of lightness and calm for the cancer patients while providing high surface reflectance for maximized ambient lighting.

9:   Long Life, Loose Fit

The open ground floor of the site speaks to the historic activism of the MLK complex. The slope from Boulevard to the MLK Museum is an urban gesture that promotes long-term usability of the urban block. The landscaped seating area south of the building doubles as an amphitheater to speak about social issues. The unobstructed plaza space becomes a powerful tool to voice the public in a historic place of social action.

The CLT construction of the site may be disassembled in a future where lung cancer rates are no longer trending and a new program must be introduced. The steel and concrete frame provide a basis for future adaptive reuse projects to utilize the cantilever and keep the pathway to the MLK complex.

10: Collective Wisdom and Feedback Loops

The Martin Luther King, Jr. complex is historically significant on a national level, although without an urban point of entry, navigation of the area is muddled and contributes to the lack of internal circulation. This was the issue presented upon meeting with the community Sweet Auburn Planning Committee. The design problem was to create a community center and a private area for the patients on a site that needed two front faces. This created a tension to solve several problems at once. I found that the process itself led to reveal a solution to the urban problem where the elevated private program also became a gateway. Another challenge was creating a highly-efficient building for the community but also an emotionally responsive space for the cancer patient. Through these opposing design tensions, I have found that the solution is typically hidden within the problem. When addressing the multi-story south glazing, I applied the same logic and used the double skin as a detailed device for handling light, air and circulation. In a post-occupancy evaluation, I would like to investigate the energy offsets of my modified double skin as a supplement to the HVAC system.