Could a laser scan recreate history? © Pexels
11 Jun 2019

Could a laser scan recreate history?

2 - 4 minutes

Heritage sites are emblems of a civilization's aspirations. Losing them means losing a part of the collective memory. In 2001 laser scans were performed by late art historian and Vassar College professor,

Andrew Tallon

He was able to recreate Notre Dame by capturing one billion points of data giving the world a detailed digital blueprint of this historical structure. On April 15th, when a fire broke out on the roof of Notre Dame, the only saving grace were those digital blueprints.

NDdAmiens South

It's time to repurpose technical development to preserve history. Perhaps, cultural sustainability is the call from the future. Digital restoration practices include converting data into 3D modules in the form of digital back-ups. The amount of time, money and labor involved in keeping the actual structures intact is critical. Therefore, developing technologies to preserve an image of indigenous identity has become important.

How does it work!

It works simply – laser shots are projected on a wall of light. Another beam of light is shot at the wall. The time taken to bounce back is the measure of one point. In this manner, billions of such measurements composes a 3D visualization of the structure. A standard 3D laser will use a point every 5 millimeters. Susan Macdonald, head of buildings and sites for the Getty Conservation Institute, one of the world's foremost institutions dedicated to advancing the science behind preserving and restoring heritage sites, calls it a 'do no harm' philosophy of minimal intervention.

Scan and Render

The field of historical preservation focusses on 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. Laser scanning is just one of the newer technologies which have become part of an evolving, non-destructive process for evaluating buildings.

The technology emerged in the early 2000s and was promoted by Ben Kacyra, an Iraqi-American business and engineer who developed laser scanning technology and later founded CyArk (2003), a non-profit dedicated to laser scanning of historical sites and buildings. It was not until 2001 that his passion became a driving force. Working with national and local preservation groups around the globe on more than 200 sites, from the Sydney Opera House to Stonewall Bar in New York City, CyArk has become one of the big names in the digital preservation movement. Another CyArk initiative, working to protect the statues on Easter Island, to scan and monitor the stone structures for signs of damage. Similar works of interest is the Rani ki Vav, approximately 3000-year-old stepwell in Patan, Gujrat was scanned and digitized by CyArk along with major historical landmarks like Parthenon built 437 BCE in Athens to the remains of ancient civilization of Mesopotamia in the city of Babylon.

Corinth Fieldwork

Laser scanning is reshaping how the world protects its historical heritage. In the light of unexpected disaster and consequent loss of any architectural marvel, digitization of cultural heritage sites in the manner of 3D laser scans helps in preserving one byte at a time as well as centralizing and archiving the world culture in 3D.

Earthquake, climate change or even war may destroy these irreplaceable cultural heritage sites. Through digital scanning, it is possible to leave memories for future generations. Having said that, has the industry analyzed the value of laser scanning yet? This technology has proved its salt in regular conservation and preservation processes. But, what does that signify for the associated sectors of the AEC industry?

Wait for the story to unfold.


  1. Anchored in the cloud: Lasers, digital backups, and the future of landmark preservation
  2. Historian uses lasers to unlock mysteries of Gothic cathedrals



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CAD Evangelist. "Could a laser scan recreate history?" CAD Evangelist, Jun. 11, 2019,

CAD Evangelist. (2019, June 11). Could a laser scan recreate history?. Retrieved from

CAD Evangelist. "Could a laser scan recreate history?." CAD Evangelist (accessed September 17, 2019).

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