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Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership

Studio Gang Architects

Project Name

Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership

Project Status


Year Completed



10,000 sq. feet


Kalamazoo College


  • General Contractor: Miller-Davis Company
  • Structural Engineer: Thornton Tomasetti
  • Diekema Hamann Engineering
  • Viridis Design Group

Certifications and Designations

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Project Description

This is one of twelve American projects on the 2016 World Architecture Festival shortlist.

With its mission to catalyze positive social change, the Arcus Center works to develop emerging leaders and engage existing leaders in the fields of human rights and social justice.

The Center’s architecture supports this work in several important ways. Inside, the building’s visually open and day-lit interior is designed to encourage “convening” in configurations that begin to break down psychological and cultural barriers between people and help facilitate understanding. The presence of a living room, hearth, and kitchen for sharing food at the center of the building creates the potential for frequent informal meetings and casual or chance encounters.

Many decisions that architects must make about space—addressing, for instance, issues of accessibility or gender identification—have social justice repercussions. The integration of equitable practices directly into its design enables the Center to instigate positive social transformation at every scale. The building is likewise designed to respond sensitively to its distinct yet adjacent physical contexts: a residential neighborhood, the college campus, and a native woodland grove. Its tri-axial plan addresses and unites all three contexts with large transparent facades connected by concavely inflected arcing walls that embrace the interior space.

For the Center’s wood masonry exterior, a local but forgotten building technique was revived and brought into the 21st century. The wood sequesters carbon and provides a low-tech approach to achieving a high-performance building facade. The stacked wood material also works as a figurative extension of the trees in the adjacent grove landscape. This unique exterior challenges the Georgian brick language and plantation-style architecture of the campus’s existing buildings, while simultaneously honoring the masonry craft and those who constructed the college’s earlier structures.
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