Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership

Kalamazoo, MI

Built 2014

Kalamazoo College

Cultural, Educational, Office

10,000 sf

Targeting LEED Gold


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Historically, convening for social justice has taken place in informal settings—a church basement, a living room, or even around a kitchen table. 

The Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership brings these discussions up from the basement and squarely into public consciousness.

The Arcus Center works to develop and sustain leaders in the fields of human rights and social justice. As a learning environment and meeting space, it brings together students, faculty, visiting scholars, social justice leaders, and members of the public for conversation and activities aimed at creating a more just world.

Supporting this important work, the center’s design is visually open and activated by daylight. The plan encourages 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, chance encounters.

The wood masonry utilized for the building’s exterior is a low-tech and relatively inexpensive method of building assembly used to achieve a high-performance facade. The wood walls sequester more carbon than was released in building them, responding to today’s need to reduce carbon pollution—one of many environmental issues embraced by social justice movements.

“Social justice recognizes the inherent dignity of all people and values every life equally. It calls for both personal reflection and social change to ensure that each of us has the right and the opportunity to thrive in our communities, regardless of our identities. When we acknowledge that oppression exists and work together to end systemic discrimination and structural inequities, we increase the promise of a more just world.” 

—The Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership

The building’s tri-axial organization addresses three adjacent contexts (campus, grove, neighborhood) with transparent facades.

Consultant Team

Thornton Tomasetti, structural engineering

Viridis Design Group, landscape architect/civil engineering

Diekema Hamann, MEP/FP

Davis Langdon (AECOM), cost estimator


Honor Award, Distinguished Building, Design Excellence Awards, AIA Chicago, 2015

Honor Award, Divine Detail, Design Excellence Awards, AIA Chicago, 2015

American Architecture Award, Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design, 2015

Film by Dave Burk © Hedrich Blessing



New York Times — “Stoking a Hearth for Human Rights”

“What makes the building special is partly the novel form, which grows straight out of the center’s ambitions. It’s also the element of handicraft (those cordwood masonry exteriors) when so much marquee architecture leans on high-tech materials and 3-D printing. ... Mostly the center’s design is laudable simply for being eloquent and humane.”


Mark magazine — “Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership by Studio Gang: Jeanne Gang Shares Her Thoughts”

Jeanne Gang speaks with Mark magazine about how Studio Gang shaped a space that elevates social justice and welcomes those of all gender identifications.


Arcus Center and Writers Theatre Finalists for World Architecture Festival Awards

Two of our recently completed projects have been shortlisted for the 2016 World Architecture Festival Awards.