Laser Scanning Buildings for Historic Preservation
The 3D documentation of historic or culturally important structures is an underappreciated application of laser scanning. Modeling buildings from point clouds provides avenues for exploring virtual interactivity in otherwise inaccessible environments. As augmented reality approaches ubiquity it’s reasonable to expect point cloud data to emerge as one of its primary mediums. Those familiar with LiDAR technology are doubtlessly aware of the benefits of using laser scanners for 3D documentation; what might be slightly unclear is the why – the time, effort, and considerable financial capital involved may seem difficult to justify.
The 3-D Advantage
Using laser scanning for historic documentation offers several pragmatic advantages. Primarily, the non-intrusive nature of the device provides a hands-off means of cataloguing important, and often fragile, historical objects. The longevity of older buildings (or really any object) is directly related to the amount of use or handling it has to undergo, so an unobtrusive manner for acquiring data is obviously preferred. In addition, many older buildings have sections that are no longer structurally sound, posing a challenge to the traditional ways of measurement.
What is Historic Documentation?
The field of historic preservation focuses on planning, whether it’s developing a schedule for maintenance, or contextualizing a building within a developing neighborhood. Comprehensive laser scanning documentation streamlines these various tasks as well as providing caretakers and planners with previously unattainable assets at their disposal.
Documenting spatial or volumetric changes is less simple when dealing with complicated structures. Monitoring a building’s patterns of erosion and structural soundness play huge roles in the feasibility of continuing to keep history alive. In addition, unexpected disasters that necessitate repairs and renovations will often leave those working with poor documentation nonplussed. Laser Scanners are always thorough; the data to respond to any possible scenario will always be available in the point cloud for extraction comparison, and continued future reuse.
The Point Cloud Aesthetic
Perhaps the best reason for 3D laser scanning buildings of importance is the pure aesthetic and cultural value that is immediately generated. The educational and experiential benefits of creating virtual tours, renderings, and fly/walkthroughs of these structures is impossible to measure (unlike the buildings themselves!). As laser scanning as a technology continues to be refined, it’s important to reinvest technological development in cultural sustainability.