Laser Analysis of Historic Buildings

My primary research activity over the last several years has been in the study of the structure of Gothic buildings. In 2010, for example the producers of a documentary for Arte, Les cathédrales dévoilées, funded a $10,000 state-of-the-art laser survey of the cathedral of Paris, which supplied key new information for my 2013 monograph on the cathedral, Notre-Dame de Paris: neuf siècles d’histoire, coauthored with Dany Sandron (University of Paris-Sorbonne). Subsequent laser studies of key Gothic buildings such as the cathedral of Chartres and the abbey church of Saint-Denis—nearly 40 in total—were made possible through the Mellon Foundation grant and through the Lucy Maynard Salmon fund at Vassar College.

My students and I recently completed the first accurate architectural drawings of Canterbury Cathedral using a five billion point laser scan that I was able to make in December 2014.We have also created the first accurate plans of the cathedrals of Chartres and Bourges; both are published and have become the official reference drawings used by state-employed restoration architects.

Because of the size of the databases (typically on the order of 100 gigabytes each) this work could only take place at Vassar. But a new turnkey point-cloud distribution solution called JetStream (see demo sequence below made using a laser scan of the Vassar Chapel), developed by Leica Geosystems, has the potential to change this. JetStream is now running at Vassar in Amazon cloudspace, and will soon make possible long-distance research collaborations with specialists throughout the world.