Architecture not only features the use of futuristic material and construction advancement in its designs but also encloses concepts that reimagine spaces to allow social justice and interaction among all. Jeanne Gang’s Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership is one very prominent example that redefines the dialogue surrounding social justice activism in the United States.
Architecture cannot control the outcome of space but it has the potential to promote healthy community building and influence the fabric of our social culture.
An Inclusive Ideology | Social Justice Leadership
Social Justice or the right to unify and demand your rights has never been a welcome agenda in everyday lives, where groups are allowed to meet and converse, ideate, and categorize nodes through which they can voice their opinions.
In this set of topics that we see, leadership in social justice is of utmost importance, yet it is the one thing that is not achieved transparently for the simple fear of being shut down. Jeanne Gang, the founder of Studio Gang, designs a space that primarily presents an abode for people to convene and discuss social injustices and the pathway to a better solution.
Historically, assembling individuals who would want to stand for issues representing social justice has occurred in the most informal of settings. With the most important civil rights gatherings taking place in forlorn spaces, social justice, a topic that holds great significance, has had to face its fair share of barriers from the very beginning.
“The challenge of designing a building from the ground up that fosters discussion and renders this work visible and welcome to all is in many ways unprecedented. The Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership aims to bring social justice topics up from the basement and squarely into public consciousness.” — Studio Gang
An Engaging Design
Designed by Jeanne Gang along with her team at Studio Gang, the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership represents a platform for everybody to come together and fight for a socially just world. Located in the vicinity of the Kalamazoo College in Michigan, the center spread over 10,000 square feet, provides a hub for activists to create a cultural uprising and educate themselves and each other on issues that are free from social norms.
The design speaks volumes through its layout, spaces, and site context, creating an environment that promotes free speech and engages young adults in conversations that catalyze positive social change. Through the burrow of contours, the Y-shaped building grows naturally on-site with two sides accessing either a part of the campus or the city. The building’s footprint at first glance seems concavely pushed inwards towards its nexus but the interior portion of the building is open and inviting.
Though it is identified as a center, the structure is planned in a way that portrays a single flowing space, comprising common areas that encourage important discussions with the ease of being surrounded by informal settings. The three front facades of the polygon stimulate positive energy with daylight streaming through three huge picture windows and clerestories. The campus side entrance of the center formulates into an open-air public space connecting with the landscape through a ramp that conjoins with the stairway.
Through Expressive Spaces
Jeanne Gang has kept the building contextually grounded, blending admirably well with the surrounding canopies and neighboring Georgian architecture. The interior layout is planned around an open living area, kitchen, and hearth. With the hearth being at the intersection of the three necks, the potential for casual encounters heightens with the people visiting the center seeming inclined towards it.
A continuous seating bench is etched in a curvilinear pattern throughout these spaces, forming a conversation pit that allows everybody to meet and discuss without the constraints of dividing spaces. The other areas like the seminar halls, admin offices, and workrooms are planned radially from the hearth. With utmost importance given to breaking free of all socially set agendas, the center also has non-gender washrooms that help people feel comfortable.
Spaces formed through ideation drive the message a structure is trying to convey. The highlight of urban placemaking portrayed through the informal stepped and ramped meeting arena, opens out onto the campus and doubles up as a reading area and transition zone. The stairway and ramp, being joined to one another, do not deem the common practice of segregation but better yet amplify the message of equality through this simple gesture.
The Materials Communicate
The structure is constructed of steel and its exterior is clad with the most distinctive and eye-catching element—cordwood masonry. The elevation seems to resemble natural stone but when viewed up close we find meticulously cured and sustainably harvested logs of timber. In response to the current need to reduce carbon pollution and advance sustainable building practices, the wood walls sequester more carbon than was released in building them.
The outer surfaces show the inexpensive application of timber while the interiors of the center are styled to present a modern aesthetic with a warm color palette. With the use of colossal glass facades, a rustic exterior of woodwork etched on the strength of a steel structure, and the naturally flowing interiors with niches, level changes, and pleasing furniture arrangements, Jeanne Gang has designed a center that speaks towards the voice of social justice.
The Freedom Acquired Through Design | Social Justice Leadership
“Social justice recognizes the inherent dignity of all people and values every life equally. 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 Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership stands to prove that equality is a priority and the initiative to come together in a space that differentiates against nobody and allows the collision of voices raised for a better tomorrow is bound to address social transformation at every scale. Jeanne Gang, with an altruistic design, explains how it intends to bring human rights issues out of invisible places and into public consciousness.