News / Calgary

Laser scans capturing important parts of Alberta history

University of Calgary prof making 3D renderings of buildings and sites

Renderings from laser scans done by University of Calgary archeologist Peter Dawson could help future generations repair or rebuild important historic assets.

View 2 photos

zoom

Courtesy Peter Dawson

Renderings from laser scans done by University of Calgary archeologist Peter Dawson could help future generations repair or rebuild important historic assets.

It’s not quite a replicator, but laser technology could help future generations restore and replicate important parts of Alberta’s history.

University of Calgary archaeologist Peter Dawson has been partnering with the province to digitally scan and catalogue buildings and sites of historical interest.

The technology he uses is portable, making it easy to get to remote locations if needed.

“It’s about the size of a lunchbox, it stands on a surveyor’s tripod, and it generates millions of points of laser lights,” said Dawson.

In just a few hours, an entire building can be scanned, and the data from the lasers is then translated into three dimensional renderings, and even architectural plans.

As if lasers weren’t cool enough, Dawson uses drones and another technique called photogrammetry to reach the high areas the lasers can’t reach.

One of his most recent jobs was to scan the remains of the historic McDougall Memorial United Church near Morely.

The church burned down in May, but some of the original walls were left standing.

“The damage to the structure had been done,” he said. “It would’ve been nice to do that when it was still standing.”

However, because the fire had destroyed most of the exterior cladding that had been added in the 1950s, Dawson was able to capture information about the original log construction of the church.

“The fire revealed these beautiful dovetailed joints,” he said.

Ron Moore, president of the McDougall Stoney Mission Society, said there was some extensive architectural work done when they added a foundation to the church about 20 years ago, but he said the scan will also add important information.

“It’s very interesting what they’ve come up with actually,” he said. “I’ve only just seen the pictures.”

Dawson said the technology is regularly used in structural engineering. It's often repeated over several years to see if parts of the building are sinking or degrading.

He and his crew are undertaking a similar project with the Brooks aqueduct. They are scanning it annually so that preventative maintenance might be performed if needed.

He said the relatively short amount of time allows them to gather information in a hurry. A Chinese laundry from the early 1900s was set to be torn down.

Doing extensive measurements of the building by hand would’ve taken too much time, but Dawson had exact measurements within a few hours.

Dawson plans to continue scanning more sites of historical interest. He said considering the 2013 floods or recent wildfires, it is important to have detailed records of sites in case they are ever destroyed in future disasters.

More on Metronews.ca