Point of Beginning

Web Exclusive: Scanning A Fishy Business

September 1, 2009
Historic Fishtown in Leland, Mich.


The shores of the Great Lakes were once fringed with commercial fisheries that turned toward the bountiful resources of the lakes for food and a livelihood. Now the once common fish tugs, fishing docks, shanties and net reels--the icons of more than a century of Great Lakes fisheries--have nearly disappeared, taking with them the memories of the extensive role that the commercial fisheries once played in the Great Lakes.

Fishtown, in Leland, Mich, is a rare example of a working waterfront with a cultural fishing heritage that has beaten the odds--it still exists. On the banks of the Leland River, within the Leland Historic District, Fishtown retains much of the character of the commercial fishing village that was settled in the late 1800s. In Fishtown, visitors find historic working fish tugs, fishery shanties and on-going commercial and sport fishing. The Leelanau Tourism Initiative identified Fishtown as the second most-important attraction in the Leelanau Peninsula, so it is clearly essential to the economics of Leland, the county and northwest Lower Michigan.

Historic Fishtown in Leland, Mich.

Preserving Fishtown

Fishtown Preservation Society Inc. recognized the need to address the infrastructure needs of Fishtown. The role of the society is to ensure the preservation of this unique property maintaining its cultural fabric and heritage of the Lake Michigan fishery. The Fishtown Preservation Society engaged the national firms of JJR LLC and HopkinsBurns Design Studio, both located in Ann Arbor, Mich., to complete the “Fishtown Site Study, Design, and Master Plan (2008)” addressing the urgent infrastructure and building improvements.

The project provided planning and design services for ADA-compliant public access, needed utilities, repair and improvement of the wharf and foundations of the historic fishing shanties. Utilizing solid research and state-of-the-art planning tools, the master plan sets forth a comprehensive approach to the preservation, maintenance and operation of Fishtown’s eight major wood-frame buildings and two concrete-block smokehouses and the utilization of the existing wharf for fishing access.

A colored point cloud perspective of Fishtown.

Reeling in the Data

One of the most-important tools utilized by the site designers, architects and engineers was the high-definition survey completed by Midwestern Consulting, also located in Ann Arbor. “Midwestern Consulting provided our client with an accurate 3D wireframe of the buildings and wharf from which the planners, engineers and architects performed detailed investigations on the horizontal and vertical relationship between building mass, site conditions and the river,” said Douglas Denison, JJR’s project manager. “The wireframe allowed exploration of various alternatives of the existing and future spatial relationships.”

These historic fish shanties were hastily constructed and have since deteriorated over time. Rarely do these buildings lie perpendicular, plumb or even parallel to one another. This presented the architects with a nearly impossible task of measuring and locating the exact existing conditions. Traditional means of dimensioning spatial relationships with tape measures or survey equipment would neither be economical nor provide sufficient 3D information. An alternative method would be needed.

Midwestern Consulting, after reviewing the site information and discussing the project objectives with the client, proposed the use of a high-definition laser scanner (Leica HDS 3000) to capture the existing conditions point cloud. The twists and turns of the shanties as well as the ground surface would be collected by the laser scanner. “The high-definition survey was a far more accurate way of documenting the existing buildings than was possible through traditional means and methods, and it was also very cost effective,” said Gene Hopkins, of HopkinsBurns, who is the lead architect in the historic preservation. “It has provided us with precise archival ‘snapshots’ of the buildings, with both 3D and 2D images, which we will use as our bench mark in development of the restoration documents.“

The unique nature of the village presented a few challenges in collecting the data--namely, line of sight and target acquisition. To overcome these challenges, Midwestern Consulting planned for additional setups within the town and also set up across the river on the dock, a historic tugboat and a neighboring hotel. "The on-site data-gathering process drew lots of public interest,” said Amanda Holmes, administrative director of the Fishtown Preservation Society. “People paused and looked at Fishtown in a whole new way, wondering what about Fishtown they may never have noticed before or what they may simply take for granted.”

The point cloud in silouette format with a 3D wireframe drawing dropped over the point cloud.

Delivering the Catch

From the point cloud data, Midwestern Consulting’s task was to provide deliverables to the architect and preservation society that could highlight the current charm and the potential renovation of the town. 3D wireframes of each of the eight fish shanties and two smokehouses were created. They included structural, roof, door and window elements. The 3D building wireframes could be imported directly into Google SketchUp to create the basis of a massing study. Midwestern also provided point cloud snapshots to view different perspectives of the village, scalable .tif images of the building facades and a topographic survey of the property. To accomplish these tasks, Midwestern Consulting utilized Leica GeoSystems Cyclone, Cloudworx Pro and Virtual Surveyor. These deliverables enabled the architects to portray their vision of Fishtown to the Fishtown Preservation Society and local community in a very useful, hands on manner.

In the end, the Fishtown Preservation Society and the architects had a very exact description of Fishtown’s existing conditions. "The 3D laser scans improved our master planning process by giving our planners impeccable data from which to generate maps and drawings,” Holmes said. Because of the laser scans and the skills of the professional team, the Fishtown Preservation Society has a stronger planning tool for the future.