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3D laser technology to preserve Europe’s wooden built heritage

Some of Europe’s historical wooden architecture is in a grave state of abandonment, and documentation like surveying and cataloguing isn’t sufficient to restore this rich heritage. An EU initiative has introduced innovative technological tools to document wooden buildings and ensure their preservation.

Society

Fires and neglect are the main factors compromising the conservation of traditional wooden buildings and timber structures. Consequently Finland, as many other European countries, is seeing its wooden architecture fade away because of demolition. “The state of the art in European wooden heritage doesn’t encourage or support any scientific approach for preservation and restoration activities, due to unsystematic or missing documentation,” says Anna-Maija Ylimaula, coordinator of the EU-funded PresWoodenHeritage project. “There’s an urgent need to survey and catalogue this vast and unique heritage,” adds post-doc researcher Sara Porzilli who led the study. This research was undertaken with the support of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie programme.

Documentation with 3D laser scanning

To investigate the theoretical and practical methods of keeping and preserving wooden architecture, PresWoodenHeritage researchers began by analysing and surveying both historic and modern buildings (single or grouped) and isolated architecture in Finland and Italy. They combined research, theory and practice to come up with novel means of documentation, mainly through actions involving point clouds (data sets representing objects or space), 2D and 3D technical drawings, analysis of the architecture and surroundings, censuses and inventories. “The cities, towns, property owners and restoration workers are delighted with the results and found them really beneficial,” notes Ylimaula. “The owners of these properties benefit, of course, from superior documentation that also reveals a building’s damage and overall condition.” Together with experts in digital documentation, Porzilli and the PresWoodenHeritage team tested different types of laser scanners, equipment, software and methods. This helped to define novel techniques and procedures fundamental in supporting architects, construction engineers, historians, archaeologists and designers. “We developed a sound new way of documenting through systematic laser scanning, photo documentation and research on the history of each wooden building,” explains Ylimaula. “It’s now possible to obtain a complete description of a wooden architecture construction in the form of a very detailed representation.” What’s more, up-to-date AutoCAD drawings can be used in restoration projects.

Going digital to preserve and restore

When this type of documentation is carried out in future, a digital archive needs to be created for the documents. Right now, the situation is such that laser scanning is mostly done by engineering companies during a quick visit to the site, and without any prior knowledge or research into the history of the building concerned. PresWoodenHeritage has provided valuable insight into digital survey methods, instruments and techniques, while enhancing understanding of the wooden heritage. “The entire project approach was based on the belief that the processes of knowledge – both theoretical and practical, in architecture – can’t ignore the traces of the past, old buildings and traditional construction,” Ylimaula concludes. “They are serving as a testimony of the past and providing a solid starting point for new, coherent, sustainable and harmonious urban development.”

Keywords

PresWoodenHeritage, documentation, wooden architecture, laser scanning, 3D, wooden buildings, wooden heritage, preservation

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