Home AEC Skylab Architecture, PLACE Celebrate Community Connection through Des Moines Marina Steps

Skylab Architecture, PLACE Celebrate Community Connection through Des Moines Marina Steps

PLACE, Skylab Architecture, Des Moines Marina Steps, Des Moines, King County, SSR3, KPFF, Shannon & Wilson
Courtesy of Skylab Architecture

By Bekka Wiedenmeyer

The city of Des Moines, Washington is tucked halfway between Seattle and Tacoma in southwest King County. Nearly 32,000 people call Des Moines home. Downtown light rail can shuttle residents to Seattle in less than 30 minutes, and SeaTac International Airport is a 10-minute drive away. The city is committed to expand its connectivity and local opportunity as the population grows, improving multi-modal transport connections, developing the new Des Moines Creek Business Park, and more recently, introducing the plan for the Marina Steps, which is the first step of a multi-phase project that hopes to turn Des Moines into one of Puget Sound’s premier boating destinations.

“The project was originally [designed] to explore undeveloped city property to provide a public access connection from 223rd Street down to the waterfront,” said the design team from Portland-based design studio Skylab Architecture in a joint statement via email to The Registry. “The Marina Steps became the catalyst for thinking more broadly about the potential adjacent development with the steps and to connect downtown and the waterfront both from an environmental and infrastructure point of view.”

Located at 22307 Dock Ave S, the Des Moines Marina spans 29 acres and is fully operational. Owned and operated by the City, it features 806 boat slips, a boatyard, dry storage, an esplanade and public access areas to the Puget Sound for fishing and recreation. The Quarterdeck Cafe is located near the north end of the marina, and marine mammal rescue non-profit organization SR3 operates a marine mammal hospital on the south end. 

As the only marina located between Seattle and Tacoma, the Des Moines Marina serves as a regional, national and international destination for visitors across Puget Sound. It is within that context that the City of Des Moines, in partnership with Skylab Architecture and Spokane-based landscape architecture firm PLACE, has revealed the plans for the Marina Steps, which are part of a master plan that aims to develop public amenities in affiliation with adjacent parcels for private development. The team from Skylab Architecture, who is the architect of record, includes design director Jeff Kovel, principal project manager Brent Grubb, project director Jill Asselineau, project architect Luke Smith, project design architect Shaun Selberg, and project designer Jeni Nguyen. PLACE serves as the landscape architect, and KPFF Seattle as the civil/structural engineer. National engineering firm Interface Engineering serves as the mechanical/electrical engineer for the project, as well as lighting, and Seattle-based consultancy firm Shannon & Wilson as geotechnical engineer.

The project will be a 44,856-square-foot activity hub which connects not only the 223rd Street watershed project to the east, but also development sites to the north and south, as well as future plaza and marina projects to the west. Pedestrian steps and switchback ramps will help visitors navigate the 36-foot elevation change, providing connectivity to buildings yet to be developed at each floor level. 

“The creation of a regenerative and intertwined relationship between structure and landscape frames the project approach, setting the stage for an experience or place that can change every time you visit,” said the landscape team from PLACE in a joint statement via email to The Registry. “The overall design promotes both a sense of discovery as well as moments of respite, reflecting the dynamic qualities of the Puget Sound and our relationship to it. Each design decision is rooted in the aspiration to reenergize the Marina District with the creation of a direct, vibrant pedestrian connection between the active waterfront and central city.”

Throughout the project, the team is focused on relating the Marina Steps with the existing marina.

“The reconnection of the city core to the Marina celebrates commerce, community, and views through investment in the public realm,” the PLACE team said. “The Marina Steps bring heightened active engagement to the Marina, with the intent to maintain the feel and use of the working waterfront. The existing waterfront walk establishes the point of departure upon which the Marina Steps build, making a direct line from 223rd uphill to the moment you land at the seawall.”

The Marina Steps will feature a terraced landscape that was carefully designed to emphasize the relationship between the manmade marina and organic Washington waterfront. A thoughtful selection of architectural materials will give a subtle nod to the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest, and present visitors with the opportunity to stop and admire the views from the steps.

“The palette of concrete, stone, steel, native planting and wood – paying homage to Pacific Northwest driftwood beaches – create a neutral yet tactile stage highlighting plantings, public art and casual interactions,” the Skylab team said. “The narrative of the sense of place, environmental health and investment in the local community will be thread through the site with integrated text, art and access to views and nature for the entire community.”

Since the Marina Steps are at the terminus of 223rd Street, they will showcase the stormwater management and urban design used in the watershed project. According to Skylab, the watershed project aims to intercept storm drains carrying approximately 60 acres of stormwater to the Puget Sound, treating it rather with infiltration planters that are incorporated into the streetscape. Visitors can read informational signage that will be placed strategically along the path, describing the water treatment techniques used on the site.

“Revealing stormwater management with this marine-based community has been increasing its effort to protect and preserve its primary natural resource,” the Skylab team said. “The ecological narrative forms the foundation of the pedestrian corridor while thoughtfully engaging the retail and restaurant experience along its length. The 223rd Street watershed project enhances the social and environment linkage between the city core and the Puget Sound ecosystem.”

Future development around the Marina Steps will include a plaza at the base, which is part of another phase of the master plan. Visitors will have the opportunity to rest and relax in the plaza, which will also set a backdrop for community events like the summertime Des Moines Waterfront Farmers Market. In fact, one of the team’s favorite features of the project is its ability to create space for community life to thrive in one of the most rapidly evolving sectors of the city.

“The Marine Steps enfold the life and character of Des Moines into the project with dedicated space for the Farmers Market to flourish year-round, future integrated boat storage to supplement capacity and community support for sustainable stormwater strategies to benefit shared resources,” the PLACE team said.

While construction timing has not been confirmed, residents and visitors can look forward to other ongoing redevelopment plans that the city has been pursuing in the meantime, including expanded guest moorage at the marina and access to fishing piers, boat storage and other water-oriented activities.

Courtesy of Skylab Architecture