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Total Stations, Laser Scanners at Forefront of Historic Restoration

When fire, flood or other disasters claim all or part of a historical and architectural wonder, attention quickly turns to the question of restoration and the tools needed to achieve it.

The world watched, stunned, on April 15 as fire spread across Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. In the weeks that followed, architects and rebuilders started to discuss the way forward, and many journalists wondered about the larger challenges of restoration of historic structures.

Those writers included Tom Jackson, executive editor of Equipment World, a leading publication in the construction industry, who set out to explore the role of high-tech construction specialists in the restoration of the world's most famous church.

Exploring the high-tech tools of historic restoration

For the article, Jackson interviewed Trimble's Gregory Lepere, director of marketing for optical and imaging, and kicked off his piece with this overarching idea:

When Notre Dame went up in flames April 15, many people lamented the fact that we have few craftsmen today with the skills to recreate the work it took to build the cathedral more than 1,000 years ago.

But while masons, woodcarvers and plasterers may be in short supply, there’s already a small army of high-tech construction specialists seeing to the early stages of the restoration of the world’s most famous church. And the tools they are using—primarily 3D laser scanners and total stations—are the same tools many contractors use today.

In fact, if it weren’t for the scans and digital mapping done on Notre Dame and many of the world’s other ancient monuments, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to repair or restore these world historical treasures. Paper plans for these structures, if there ever were any, are long gone.

In the article, Lepere explains that historical preservation was one of the fist applications for laser scanning, which started in the late 1980s. “From the very beginning, cultural heritage was what everybody had in mind,” he says.

Lepere, who is French, grew up fascinated by the Gothic cathedrals in his native country and has performed scans on many of them, including Notre Dame in Paris, as well as assisting in projects in Syria and Egypt. Although he is not currently working on the Notre Dame restoration project, the city has been in touch with him, and he has contributed the data files he’s collected there over the years.

“The scanning is going on as we speak, but the cathedral has been scanned multiple times for different reasons,” says Lepere. “They have a database of information from different points in time that they are going to use. It’s not just a one-time thing. During the next year or two, the cathedral is going to be scanned many times.”

Discovering anomalies the eye can't see

The piece goes on to explain how 3D laser scanners and total stations do more than provide a digital blueprint. They reveal much more, such as asymmetry and movement.

In fact, the same off-the-shelf tools used for highways, bridges and buildings can provide accurate scans of historic structures and their seemingly irreplaceable features, such as statues, wood carvings and plaster moldings.

Learn more by reading the full article here.