By Ned Baxter

Good design starts with a problem. For leadership at Lake Michigan College, it was attracting and retaining students to their advanced manufacturing programs. To do this, they needed to first change the assumption that manufacturing is dull, repetitive work that’s out of step with West Michigan’s growing creative economy. Merlin Hanson, a local businessman and philanthropist, saw a similar problem in his own business, and in others throughout the region. There just weren’t enough people in existing training programs to take advantage of the careers available in manufacturing.  Mr. Hanson believed that a “transformational” building dedicated to Lake Michigan College’s manufacturing and technology programs could express the possibilities and vitality of the industry, and provide a foundation for growth. Together, Mr. Hanson and Lake Michigan College would work together with the design team at Progressive AE to create a cutting-edge facility dedicated to innovation, exploration and education.


As designers, our experience tells us that all problems bring opportunities for creative solutions. Before determining what the building would look like, our team worked alongside the college and leaders from the local manufacturing community to better understand the goals of the project. How could the new facility house existing programs while also serving as a tool for teaching? Design choices were focused around pairing student success with the opportunity to redefine student’s and the community’s understanding of manufacturing and technical education while raising their awareness.



The project’s commitment to reinventing the public’s understanding of manufacturing begins with a dramatic first impression upon arriving to campus. A continuous glass wall offers views unprecedented views into the building’s public and collaboration spaces. Dynamic forms build towards the center’s dramatically raised north end. The point is meant to emphasize the entrance and symbolize a reach into the “future of manufacturing”

Hanson Technology Center exterior
The Hanson Technology Center creates a dramatic first impression for visitors of Lake Michigan College’s Napier Avenue campus.
Hanson Technology Center exterior
In its unique shape, the building’s glass and metal façade simultaneously leans into the future while reaching outward in a signal of welcome.

Once inside, the space is intentionally simple to maximize flexibility and to allow for future growth and change. The building consists of three connected, parallel “bars”. The first is the lab spaces that are designed for openness and flexibility, with views to outside. The middle bar is a row of classroom and collaboration spaces, and the third is the entrance and public space. Full-height glass windows and large garage doors visually connect the bars and allow access between each. The public corridor can also be a place to exhibit and test projects started in the labs.

lmc hanson lab 1
The lab space features floor length windows and open views to other classes and students.
Classrooms separate the lab space (seen to the left) from the public, common area to the right.
The public area features a full wall of windows and spaces for students to collaborate and study.
The public area features a full wall of windows and spaces for students to collaborate and study.


Supplementing traditional labs that teach welding, electronics, and machining, the building is anchored at each end by two distinct spaces dedicated to pushing the boundaries of advanced manufacturing education.

A Simulation Lab is one of the few collegiate large-scale simulation labs in the country. Centered around a 16-foot touch screen connected to individual computers, the technology can be used to conduct “hands-on” learning for systems and technologies that would otherwise be unavailable to the students.

lmc hanson simulation lab 1
The Simulation Lab includes a 16ft. touchscreen that connects to each individual computer.

A Fabrication Lab not only introduces students to the latest in 3D printing and computerized design, but also the individual expression and problem solving possible with these tools. Adjacent to a wood shop, the Fabrication Lab mixes diverse ways of making while adding spaces for design, teaching, and collaboration to make a multi-disciplinary environment where art, engineering, and manufacturing can inform projects in and outside of the classroom.

lmc hanson fab lab 1
The Fabrication Lab gives students access to 3D printers and other similar technologies.


The design of the Hanson Technology Center celebrates the way technology and design can pair with precision manufacturing to create dynamic spaces that are environmentally and financially efficient. Financially, the building’s curtain wall system minimizes the complexity and cost of its sloped façade., Heating and cooling needs are met through use of a natural geothermal loop. Additionally, large exterior windows provide natural lighting that cuts down on electricity needs.

With an initial requirement from the client that the new center be anything “but a box”, the Hanson Technology Center is so much more. Through careful attention to the needs of the college, students and the workplace, the center’s spaces celebrate technology and promote a sense of investigation that supports the program’s ability to attract, retain and teach students.

Learn more about the Hanson Technology Center.