Skip to Content

The Aaron Friedman Marine Hydrodynamics Lab

The 112-year-old “tow tank” in West Hall recently got a fresh face and a new name through a renovation project ending this month.

Built in 1904, the testing basin was the first University-affiliated facility of its kind in the United States and is still the largest.

Renovations focused on making its workspaces more open, flexible and collaborative, and on creating a space that’s more engaged with the campus around it.

The facility also has a new name: The Aaron Friedman Marine Hydrodynamics Lab, named for the Michigan Engineering alumnus whose family’s gift helped to make the renovations possible. Aaron Friedman was a 1943 naval architecture and marine engineering alumnus who earned an undergraduate degree in naval architecture and marine engineering and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from U-M. He served in the U.S. Naval Reserve during World War II and had a lifelong love of boats and the water.

The exterior of the building and the testing basin itself are unchanged. Improvements to the lab include:

  • A new interior vestibule, redesigned and updated.
  • Renovations to corridor and offices to make them more open and versatile.
  • An upgraded and relocated computer lab.
  • A gender inclusive toilet room
  • An LED light wall that tells the story of U-M’s unique naval architecture heritage as one of few dedicated naval architecture programs in the United States, and an exhibit wall that highlights the life of Aaron Friedman

“For generations, the hydrodynamics lab has provided students with educational tools and experiences they can’t get anywhere else – testing new propulsion systems and hull designs and learning about hydrodynamics at a commercial-scale facility. It has also enabled commercial shippers to launch some of the most important new ideas in marine technology,” said Alec D. Gallimore, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering, Richard F. and Eleanor A. Towner Professor and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Aerospace Engineering.

“These renovations have reinvigorated it for a new generation of students and visitors and provide a fitting showcase for the premier naval architecture school in the United States.”

The facility is located in West Hall, on the southeast corner of the U-M Diag on the University’s Central Campus.

“The knowledge that my father gained at U-M is something that stayed with him every day of his life,” said Barbara Friedman-Kohler, Aaron Friedman’s daughter and a 1973 alumna of what was then the U-M College of Architecture and Design. “This gift has made the lab a place that draws in and inspires today’s students, that helps them see that with a great education, the sky is the limit.”

The renovations were done with an eye toward preserving the character of the 112-year-old building, which was recently designated a historic campus landmark. The design maintains features like the original windows and wood trim from the corridor into the tow tank and the original marble at the entry foyer.

“This facility has long been the gateway to Michigan Engineering on Central Campus, and I’m excited that we’ve had the opportunity to modernize it in a way that nods to the past while embracing the future,” said Jing Sun, the Michael G. Parsons Professor of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering and the chair of the department.“The Friedman-Kohler family has helped us create a space that will be transformative for our students and faculty.”

The basin was last renovated in 2006 and includes state-of-the art technology like laser Doppler velocimetry and an infrared optical tracking system to precisely monitor the behavior of test vessels and the waves they create.