A general formulation for shape design sensitivity analysis over a plane arch structure is developed based on a variational formulation of curved beam in linear elasticity. Sensitivity formula is derived using the material derivative concept and adjoint variable method for the stress defined at a local segment. Obtained sensitivity expression, which can be computed by simple algebraic manipulation of the solution variables, is well suited for numerical implementation since it does not involve numerical differentiation. Due to the complete description for the shape and its variation of the arch, the formulation can manage more complex design problems with ease and gives better optimum design than before. Several examples are taken to show the advantage of the method, in which the accuracy of the sensitivity is evaluated. Shape optimization is also conducted with two design problems to illustrate the excellent applicability.