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Digital Disaster Relief
Preservationists are creating 3D models of historic buildings, just in case.
Not-for-profit CyArk has documented sites worldwide, including Angkor Wat.
Arian Zwegers/Flickr

Preservation architects are turning to new technologies to help rebuild historic structures damaged by natural disasters. “Access to digital and 3D data can make certain projects possible,” says Lisa Ackerman, executive vice president of the World Monuments Fund.

One such project is at the Arts Centre in Christchurch, New Zealand, where Holmes Consulting Group (HCG) is using 3D scanning equipment to stabilize, repair, and strengthen the former Canterbury College buildings, a complex of late-19th century Gothic stone masonry structures that were severely damaged by earthquakes in 2010 and 2011.

HCG faced several challenges with working on these landmark buildings, including the fact that there were no modern architectural or engineering drawings that accurately reflected the current state of the buildings. The firm used high definition scanning equipment to generate detail point cloud data, and then used IMAGINiT’s Scan-to-BIM software, which easily integrated with Autodesk Revit. Scan-to-BIM allowed HCG to interact with point clouds, assisting with the automated recognition and placement of architectural elements and enabled the firm to create working models.

Today, the HCG team has made models for all the buildings on the site that were damaged in the earthquakes. The models are allowing the structural engineers to analyze how each building behaves to determine its strength and how it will move in future earthquakes. “In the end we are getting far more detail than we thought possible and that helps immensely in the preservation process,” says Tony Fitzwater, HCG’s national drafting manager.

Engineers and architects are not only using 3D scanning technology to respond to natural disasters, they are applying these technologies to prepare for future strikes. The not-for-profit organization CyArk is committed to “preserving cultural heritage sites through collecting, archiving, and providing open access to heritage data created through laser scanning, digital modeling, and other state-of-the-art technologies.” The organization is creating a free, 3D online library of the world’s cultural heritage sites, which Ackerman said “records the most minute detail of a place, allowing it to be studied, rebuilt, or admired.” CyArk has documented sites worldwide, including Ancient Thebes, Angkor Wat, Pompeii, and Mesa Verde. In October 2013, the organization is kicking-off a campaign to digitally preserve 500 cultural heritage sites over the next five years.

Liz McEnaney