The Ellen DeGeneres campus of the Fossey Gorilla Fund is a new educational center in the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda. It aims to serve as a worldwide model for responsible design and construction focused on ecology. This building is a $15 million investment that anchors the region as a conservation hub for ecological preservation and education in Africa.

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Exterior view of the campus with "Ellen Degeneres Campus" concrete sign at the front of the road

The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, The Ellen Fund and MASS Design Group celebrated the opening of the center in June. The 12-acre campus shines with MASS’s “Purpose-Built” methodology, which examines capital infrastructure alongside a project’s goals, design and viability.

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Aerial rendering of the hub at night near the volcanoes

The campus sits next to Volcanoes National Park at Rwanda’s border and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Meanwhile, there are three main buildings: the Sandy and Harold Price Research Center, the Cindy Broder Conservation Gallery, and the Rob and Melani Walton Education Center. There is also housing for visiting students and researchers.

Inside the conservation hub

Moreover, the facilities are not limited to the indoors. A large living laboratory was created on the former agricultural site by planting more than 250,000 native plants. In addition, buildings use green roofs and have rainwater harvesting capabilities. A constructed wetland then manages wastewater treatment.

An exhibit of fossils inside the hub

“From the outset, the mission of this project was focused on creating a space to engage the many stakeholders in conservation—students, scientists, tourists, conservation partners, community members—to advance our collective goal of saving gorillas and more broadly, the planet,” said Dr. Tara Stoinski, the Fossey Fund’s President and Chief Scientific Officer. “The beauty of the campus elevates people’s thinking about conservation, helping them realize how important conservation is. This shift is not just important for the Fossey Fund, but for the region and the world.”

Another exhibit inside the hub with a photo of a gorilla and researcher

Local labor and materials were used for the design and construction of the project to minimize its footprint. In detail, such development of an inviting reforested landscape ensured jobs for the local community. The project also employed more than 2,400 Rwandans in its design and construction, accounting for 99% of the total labor.

Rendering of a lounge area within the hub

“The campus demonstrates how new infrastructure can catalyze conservation and species protection,” said Michael Murphy, MASS Design Group Founding Principal and Executive Director.

Set in a stunning location backed by towering volcanoes and lush greenery, the center won’t have a hard time inspiring visitors and researchers alike. The campus includes outdoor learning and presentation areas. Indoors, the buildings that make up the campus feature natural skylights, generous overhanging porches, educational exhibits and an overall tranquil feel.

+ MASS Design Group

Images via MASS Design Group