Digital Technology for Modern Marina Design

Three-dimensional simulation using SketchUp and Lumion. Digital design and visualization technologies using drones. These are the tools of modern marina design.

Today’s waterfront facilities are far from simplified. They must be designed and engineered to withstand the changing effects of the environment, such as wind, waves, currents, seismic activity and ice, and to be attractive, accessible and safe. They also need to provide services and amenities to cater to the 21st century boating community looking for a “second home” atmosphere. It’s an amazing combination of planning, art, engineering and science to benefit from the use of modern design technology – and the skill sets of professionals such as landscape architects to translate a project from concept to reality.

Design concepts and standards
At the concept stage, landscape architects work directly with the port management to determine the scope of the project: the general location of the pier, the internal structures of the harbor, the number and size of boat slides, areas for descent and parking, paths, land ancillary facilities and services, utilities and utilities. pier.

During the design phase, they use several manuals: the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Guide to Planning and Designing Ports for Small Ships – Practical Textbook 50 – and the ports and harbors for small ships Tobiason and Colmayer, and collaborate with civil, coastal, civil and geotechnical engineers to achieve the recommended standards. These standards largely define design parameters and play an important role in ensuring sound engineering, safe functionality, and a sustainable life cycle. They cover elements of the project such as the width and depth of the canal and fairway, the location of navigation lines, the requirements for breakwaters, the location of wave attenuators, as well as design, load impact and performance for fixed piers, floating docks and ladders – with careful study and conditions such as hydrodynamics, potential flood levels, water circulation and deposition patterns.

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MSA waterfront experts developed a waterfront master plan for Dylan Pier, which laid the groundwork for many pier improvements, and then created a concomitant study of the possibilities of walking the Dillon Town Core to combine downtown and waterfront. The goal is to increase multimodal accessibility and strengthen the community’s reputation as a holiday destination.

Digital visualizations and 3D models
Once the aforementioned infrastructure plans are created, a landscape architect or other professional designer can begin to integrate form with function. Entrance, technology design. Digital design tools allow you to create, model and modify port visualizations. It helps pier management, boat owners and club members visualize project concepts, alternative layouts, building materials, color palettes, landscaping, trails and connectors, accessories, greenery, recreation areas and amenities. And it helps create time and space for input, change or new ideas – well ahead of construction, saving time and money.

Drone photography is valuable at this stage and can give a group of designers images and videos of the proposed marina from different perspectives. From here, designers begin to build digital models of the site. First 2D in programs like AutoCAD, then in 3D using simulation software such as SketchUp, where project elements such as piers and docks are embedded.

Once the infrastructure is modeled in SketchUp, it moves to an architectural 3D rendering program such as Lumion. Here are uploaded photos taken by the drone, and images of the pier are spatially compared with approximate perspective and focal length, as well as actual photos. The designer can also place a virtual light source in the render to simulate the location and angle of sunlight shown in the photo. This allows you to perfectly align the reflection of light and shadow, which can be adjusted and re-reflected to show how the finished project can look at different times of the day – or even in moonlight. In Lumion you can also add and change aesthetic elements: colors, textures, vegetation or examples of different materials such as wood and concrete. Options are limited only by imagination, so the pier guide has the opportunity to explore even the boldest colors or experiment with the latest trends in materials, styles and accessories.

Finally, the 3D visualization produced by Lumion is transferred to a graphics editing program such as Photoshop, where the proposed elements are superimposed on the photo to combine them with the existing conditions. Here the designer adds the finishing touches to combine colors, light, shadows and textures.

Design technologies such as Lumion can also be used to determine space and design needs for terrestrial ancillary facilities such as roads, parking lots and storage areas. In this application you can animate 3D visualizations to show how vehicles and trailers move and maneuver around the site. They can help illustrate turning movements and display precise turning radii for different lengths of vehicles and trailers, which is very important when designing or expanding travel routes, parking spaces, and descent and exit areas. As interest in recreational boating continues to grow – as does the actual size of the boats – this technology is proving invaluable in the design and construction of safe, easy-to-navigate piers and additional waterfront systems.

The value of design technology
With the help of digital tools in the design process, there are other indicators of efficiency. These tools are designed to help customers think big while maximizing value. In the world of marinas, water is the most valuable thing, and every inch of it is worth a dollar. 3D models help visualize the best use of available space.
They also help marinas fill market gaps and meet demand for convenience, whether that means offering a wider choice of slip sizes or a new set of modern conveniences and comforts – things that make the modern marina industry so competitive. On-site restaurants and bars, promenades, shopping, storage, walking and cycling routes, broadband, repair boats, general shops, laundries, showers, fishing stations, picnic and grill areas, swimming pools – you name it. Any idea can be included and illustrated in a project visualization to assist in the decision-making process.

Higher levels of modeling can also provide value to contractors. As we see that the application of design technology in the construction industry is growing, more and more contractors are requesting digital designs of a certain fashion. Why? Because working with 3D models gives contractors accuracy and control. This can reduce construction time as well as save on refurbishment and material costs. If contractors know that at the beginning of the project they have access to a quality model, customers may see this in the form of lower prices during construction bidding.

For the Milwaukee Yacht Club, the MSA design began as an existing photograph (far left), evolved into proposed structures (center left), then into real quality (middle right) and eventually as a combined final visualization (far right).

The opportunity to share and communicate with local stakeholders what a new pier or promenade might look like is also of graphic importance. 3D modeling or visualization is a powerful marketing tool and can tip the scales when it comes to selling boats or convincing boat owners that a return on investment is good.

Milwaukee Yacht Club
Milwaukee Yacht Club is the oldest premier yacht club on Lake Michigan, located downtown at McKinley Pier. With a reputation for fragrant companionship and exquisite amenities at the marina, this club now offers 64 leaflets ranging in length from 30 to 90 feet, with a waiting list of interested members ready to join.

A 3D rendering of the MSA’s new floating dock system at Milwaukee Yacht Club illustrates the various glide sizes and wide navigation channel to accommodate member vessels and non-motorized boats under the club’s swimming training programs.

The marina, located on any of the Great Lakes, faces its own set of challenges, with high water activity, wind and waves, ice and fluctuating water levels. In 2020, an extremely high water level damaged the club’s aging stationary dock system. The club has asked the designers of the MSA waterfront and landscape architects to develop a new floating dock system with increased capacity and upgraded utilities to meet growing demand. Using drone photography and 3D modeling software SketchUp and Lumion, MSA designers have created customized visualizations for the proposed project, as well as some potential new benefits and services on shore for consideration. The designs have allowed MSA to help Milwaukee Yacht Club maximize its valuable water property and organize space to save space while accommodating the influx of large watercraft in the future – all while providing safe navigation and a pleasant atmosphere at the pier.

Modern marinas deserve modern technology. Digital design allows them to exceed operational standards and revolutionize what is possible in form and function. Whether you are renovating an existing marina or planning a new one, the tools and talents of today’s professional design professionals will help you do something extraordinary.

Dan Williams, PLA, ASLA, AHLP – MSA Senior Landscape Architect. You can contact him at Luke Geiger, PLA – MSA Landscape Architect. You can contact him at

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