Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership

Kalamazoo, MI

Built 2014

Kalamazoo College

Cultural, Educational, Office

10,000 sf

LEED Silver Certified


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 engineer

Viridis Design Group, landscape architect/civil engineer

Diekema Hamann, MEP/FP

Davis Langdon (AECOM), cost estimator


Shortlist, Higher Education Category, World Architecture Festival, 2016

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

Video by Dave Burk © Hedrich Blessing