This lecture was presented at the 3D Digital Documentation Summit held July 10-12, 2012 at the Presidio, San Francisco, CA


Evolution in Project Workflow – Is High Definition Survey the Missing Link?

There is a major shift occurring in the preservation and building industry today. It was only 30 years ago that architects and engineers where designing and documenting projects by hand. Then, somewhat reluctantly, computer aided design (CAD) slowly moved in to replace hand drafting as a more efficient tool. Now building information modeling (BIM) has entered the scene. However, unlike CAD, BIM truly changes the way the industry works. We no longer draft, but actually design and build true virtual representations of physical objects; embedding information that can be tracked and changed on the fly. Not only does BIM allow architects to design and document in 3D, but also the entire project team, creating an environment that supports an integrated and collaborative process. Initially there was pushback, but now BIM is being accepted as the future of the industry, and with it comes a rush of supporting technology to dissect and analyze projects. Moving forward our job will be to filter and streamline this evolving process to make it efficient.
While this shift in workflow is great, it is generally targeted at new projects, or building something from nothing. For preservation and reuse projects there is an extra layer of knowledge required in the planning stages. Many times, intervening with modern technology and systems can have a devastating effect on mature buildings and structures, and before a proper solution can be provided investigation and analysis are needed. As architects and preservationists we have a duty to ensure that these resources continue to provide for their users, and survive their new interpretations or uses.

Advancements in technology have given us the ability to perform energy studies, material testing, and structural and hygrothermal analysis on existing buildings. These technologies provide insight into our decisions for the reinventing, or preserving and protecting, of these valuable resources. However, none of this matters if you do not have good base to start from. High definition survey, or laser scanning has stepped up to fill the gap in our evolving project workflow. It brings the real world into the digital one so we can interact with it virtually. Using point clouds produced from laser scans, digitized objects can be manipulated and measured in a 3D virtual environment giving users access to a complete 3D visualization of those objects. It is from this manipulation that existing conditions can be drawn up and modeled without hesitation. Structures can be dissected and analyzed without invasive testing. Perhaps most importantly, time on site can be spent viewing a project holistically, putting our experience and expertise to work on something other than narrowly focusing our attention on the discrete parts. This is especially significant for our office as we are often separated from our projects by great distances. Laser scanning allows us to take the site back to the office.
Initially our interest was in digitally capturing existing conditions. Success on a few small projects gave us confidence to expand its application to very large projects. As the technology became more accessible due to cost, we experimented with using it as an analytical tool; looking for patterns and irregularities in structures and surfaces. We even found a way to expand its value into the construction phase of projects where contactors used it as a basis for shop drawings to fabricate steel.
Laser scanning has proved itself to be a very valuable link in our evolving project workflow, allowing us to move into design quickly and with confidence. Recent mainstream adoption of this technology allows us to open point clouds directly in our current BIM software. Soon we will have the ability to automatically generate features from the point cloud. Our future outlook for this technology is high, and its value keeps growing as we find new uses for it throughout a projects life.


Cordell: Brandon Friske from Quinn Evans Architecture in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He’s speaking on evolution and project work flow this morning. Brandon’s an architectural designer in the Ann Arbor office of Quinn Evans and he received his Master of Architecture from Lawrence Technological University in 2010. He’s currently a member of APT, eastern Great Lakes Chapter. He’s been a featured speaker for laser scanning and technology at the Iron & Steel Preservation Conference and the Michigan Historic Preservation Network Conference as well as various regional venues. Welcome Brandon this morning. Thank you.

Friske: Alright, thank you. I work out of Quinn Evans, Ann Arbor office in Michigan. Along with our Ann Arbor office we have a sister office in Washington, D.C. and two smaller offices, a new one located in Detroit, Michigan, that we just opened and another in Madison, Wisconsin, that we operate our landscape architecture out of.

Our company specializes in historic preservation and adaptive reuse projects with the goal of preserving our cultural heritage and our built and natural environment. Our focus in historic preservation and adaptive reuse projects provides us with the opportunity to work on many different project types using many different approaches and different technologies. Today, my presentation is going to look at the history and integration of high definition survey into our project work flow, as it is one of the key technologies that assists us now across multiple project types.  But before I jump into examining impact and importance of high definition survey to our work flow or our processes, I’d like to look at how that core work flow has evolved over time.

It’s only approximately thirty or forty years ago that architects and engineers were documenting projects almost exclusively by hand with the most simple goal of getting the intent of the project on paper so a contractor could build it. Because it took so much longer to document by hand, the number of sheets and the information represented on those sheets was much more valuable than it was today and that’s how you end up with drawings like this, the one pictured on your left, where it’s almost like a piece of art rather than a construction document.

Then somewhat reluctantly, computer design or CAD moved in to replace hand drafting, leveraging the computer to organize, produce, and alter project documents at a much faster rate and had the same overall goal in the process, except it became much more efficient and machine like, and we lost that sort of artistic quality that we had on the older drawings.

The most recent change to the industry came with the addition or introduction of BIM or Building Information Modeling and unlike CAD, BIM truly changes the way the industry works, where we no longer draft in the traditional sense but actually design and build two or three dimensional virtual representations of physical objects. These can imbed information, they can be tracked and measured and changed globally. So if you make a change in one view in your document set, it will update throughout the entire project and that’s because you’re effecting a single model and not separate isolated images like you normally would in CAD. That model can be manipulated and dissected to show the information needed to document construction.

BIM also supports a more collaborative project, allowing multiple users in industries to work within a single environment. This ability reduces the chance for mistakes during construction as problems and clashes can be discovered and worked out in the model before construction ever begins, or at least that’s the goal most of the time. We are definitely still learning to adapt to this technology, and this image clearly shows that many times we have a lot of hands in the model and things are not always coordinated well. That’s because BIM requires much more input and advanced training knowledge to use it. It also requires much more communication between the model users, so consequently there’s much greater chance for error. However, the flexibility, visualization, and collaborative benefits can greatly outweigh these disadvantages by saving money during construction and ensuring that the design is thoroughly tested and worked out prior to implementation. Since the real money for most projects is spent during construction, this is a pretty small price for us to pay.

So, while CAD contributed to the evolving project work flow as far as increasing the speed of documenting a project, BIM has given the industry a way to better plan, analyze, understand, and design a project, using technology more efficiently and not just as a computerized pencil, which is what CAD sort of started out as. That quickly brings us to where we are today. You can see that like most things which involve or employ technology, our core process is advancing at an exponential rate. Along with this advancement comes a rush of supporting technology to dissect and analyze a project. This is especially important for preservation or reuse projects, where an extra layer of knowledge and information is required at the planning and design phase. Many times, when we intervene with technology and systems, it can have a devastating effect on mature buildings or structures. So, before a proper solution can be provided, investigation and analysis are needed.

As architects and preservationists, we have a duty to ensure that these resources continue to provide for their users, and survive their interpretations and uses to the best of our abilities using the new tools we have available to us. Up on the screen is a spread of various programs and technologies we use in our office to help us during the design process. We perform energy studies, we do material testing, structural investigations, and hydro-thermal analysis, which is the monitoring of moisture through a wall assembly, for instance if we are adding insulation or changing an existing construction, to make sure that any of the changes we’re making do not have a negative impact on the structure. All this can be done on the fly as part of our design process, giving us insights into our decisions for the reinventing and preserving of our valuable resources. These abilities help evolve engineering and architecture by lessening our reliance on time tested methods and designs alone and offering a higher level of prediction for our design outcome.

While these new abilities are amazing and promise new levels of detail and understanding, they also require extensive knowledge to use. So beyond staying relevant, this knowledge is needed to truly take advantage of what our new technology can offer. Moving forward, industry professionals are going to have to either constantly educate themselves just to understand their projects or specialize themselves to better communicate or better contribute to the overall process. Our job right now is to filter through and streamline this evolving process and make it efficient and find out what we can take on as part of our own work flow within our own office.

Once piece of supporting technology that has become almost invaluable for us and something we’ve decided to take on ourselves, is using laser scanning and point clouds. I’ve presented in the past on the use of point clouds and laser scanning, focusing more on how we as an architecture firm, employ it to extract physical information about a structure or resource using basically is a highly efficient supplemental survey tool. As we become more experienced with using scanning technology, through a close relationship with our local scanning and civil engineering office and also through our own exploration of the technology, we have found many more uses for it beyond recording existing conditions. To date, we have used it for planning purposes, to analyze structure, for preservation and conservation and even during construction for fabrication of different components. Due to advances in accessibility and cost, we have gone from using it as a novelty tool to having it become a standard service when dealing with existing resources.

The evolving project work flow provides many benefits to the design and documentation process. This is really great for new architecture when you’re designing something from nothing. But when working with existing resources, you need a really good basis to start from, to accurately analyze and test design. Point clouds have stepped up in a major way to fill that gap for us. They provide the confidence to move forward quickly and accurately into design and planning phase of a project. Beyond providing a crucial and accurate base, point clouds let us gain access to otherwise dangerous or difficult to survey locations, and they let us capture a level of detail that wouldn’t be possible or really efficient if we were surveying by hand.

Many times our projects are far away from our office, so our time on site is really valuable and the more we can focus on intimate details of a project and discuss the overall big picture idea and spend less time hand measuring things that the point cloud can pick up, the better.  And then finally we used the point cloud itself to non-invasively analyze structure and observe irregularities and patterns that are not always obvious to the naked eye. This project up here is actually right by the mine shaft the previous presenter was showing up in Calumet, Michigan and was part of their mining operations to clear the tracks up in the upper peninsula of Michigan, where on average they used to get 134 feet of snow per season. It’s pretty wild up there.

We didn’t start using a high definition survey very much until we learned to best take advantage of it and understood the importance and the impact point clouds could have to us in our projects.  I have a few projects I’ll show you quickly that sort of go over some of the diverse capabilities and the benefits of the technology and how we use it as an architectural office and how our use of it has evolved over time. Also each of these projects also gave a little bit of an extra bonus value to the project, something we didn’t necessarily ask for from the point cloud, but we found more value in it as we went through the project.

The first example is a nineteenth century beaux arts structure located in Detroit, Michigan. It’s an entrance to a park along the Detroit River, and this was actually our earliest use of point clouds and laser scanning in our office. The project was a design build restoration effort that involved dismantling portions of the memorial, rebuilding the brick back up beneath it, and then resetting or replacing stones as necessary. When the project was completed, we were tasked with creating a set of detailed as built documents, noting all the stone joints and identifying the scope of the restoration work.

The only problem was we started documenting in January, which is not a fun time to be outside in Michigan and if we add to that the extremely detailed and ornate nature of the memorial itself and the lack of access to the upper portions because at this time, the scaffolding had been taken down, we decided it might be a good chance to jump in and test out laser scanning and see how it could help us out. I believe initially, we budgeted five weeks to survey and document the entire project. That was all based on our traditional methods of going out and hand measuring and photography, but once we got set up using the point cloud, which only took an afternoon to learn, I think we had the entire site done and out the door in under two weeks. We did add a level of detail and accuracy that would not have been possible had we surveyed by hand. So the entire process sort of took us by surprise, and it was from this experience that we were able to move forward with confidence in other projects and test out different ways to use it.

This project is a reflecting pool in Detroit, Michigan. It’s part of Minoru Yamasaki’s McGregor Center and Wayne State University’s campus. Years of neglect had left the concrete pool in a deteriorated state and it was unable to hold water. So our goal was to recapture Yamasaki’s original design by repairing the pool structure, restoring the sculptured gardens and repaving the terrace to allow free and accessible movement around the site. The process would require moving the various components that create the reflecting pool and its landscape, including the monolithic bridges that span from the terrace areas to the islands, the sculpture as it sort of littered the landscape, and the various large stones which were within the pool itself, and then repairing the pool structure and the paving around it and resetting everything back in the same position.

We had this project scanned for one reason. The site itself was simple and geometric but the assorted pieces needed to be reassembled in the precise arrangement as when we started and the stones in particular were pinned in place with steel supports at some pretty odd angles. We thought they were just resting on the concrete but when we went to investigate, we realized some of them were suspended and tilted up at odd angles the way that Yamasaki wanted for when the pools were filled with water.

So we used the point cloud to create our existing condition drawings, but we made diagrams for reassembling all the different components during construction. This is one of the projects where we got a little bonus value out of the point cloud. We unfortunately found another use for the cloud on this project. As repairs began on the reflecting pool, the structure started to disintegrate as the contractor was working on the pool walls and it left basically a steel skeleton of reinforcing where those walls once stood. You can see in the picture here, the steel is almost in perfect condition and the concrete was just pulling away from it. Further investigation and testing revealed that the entire structure needed to be replaced which our core samples had not led us to believe. So luckily, we had the point cloud on which we could use to go back and accurately provide a record of what was there before the contractor started demolition because he was pretty quick to go around and demolish everything before we could get back out to the site.

The next project is the Quapaw Bathhouse in Hot Springs, Arkansas. It’s actually in Hot Springs National Park. The scope of work on this project was to write a conditions assessment report after investigating the dome and its structure. So it was a little different from previous projects in that we were not producing documents from our scan.

The dome itself had a long history of repairs and damage, including current issues with water infiltration. We had the dome scanned on this project to provide a base to create diagrams from but more importantly to try and gain an understanding of the structural shell of the dome itself with the hope of identifying any patterns or irregularities that might be contributing to the problems we were seeing.

This was our first attempt at using point cloud technology for something other than strictly drawing up existing conditions. It revealed something previously unknown based on historic core samples and drawings. The dome was up to an inch and a half narrower across the midsection of the structure and the deviation in the thickness corresponded to the same place we were seeing cracks at the interior. Ultimately, it was determined that the change in thickness was not enough to have an impact on the structural integrity of the dome. It was just a remnant of the construction methods at the time, but it did help us understand more about the dome and it was a completely non-invasive process, which was one of the goals on this project.

We also got a little bonus on this project as well. Scanning the dome only took a few hours and our engineer was down for there for two days with us, so he spent the rest of his time walking up and down bathhouse row, which is pictured on the bottom, and he scanned the exteriors of all the other bath houses. So now in the future, the park has that as a record of that current condition and configuration so they can use that for any future projects they have and keep it on archive.

This last project I’ll share is the Ottawa Street Power Station. It’s in Lansing, Michigan. We worked with multiple people on this project. We were the historic preservation architects but this was converted into an office building for an insurance company and they also put a new edition off to the side. Our job was to create the base Revit model but did this in Revit, prior to having access to point clouds and Revit, so we went through a process of using it in cloud works or cloud works and auto cad to create 2D drawings, then converted those 2D drawings into our Revit model, which now is not the case, but it was our first sort of foray into using point clouds and converting that into a three dimensional model to document construction from.

The existing building was a really large open volume and some of the spaces were up to nine stories tall and they were riddled with steel grating and catwalks. So it wasn’t a really nice area to walk around in and hand measure. It was too dangerous, and it was really inaccessible by hand, so that fact combined with our past experience, we decided to go ahead and have the entire building scanned on the interior so we could use it to document the project. This was our largest project at the time; I think they did almost two hundred scans on the interior, which was a lot considering the entire thing was opened up. And the benefits I talked about earlier relating to our evolving project work load and supporting technology can now come into play once we’ve used the point cloud to create an accurate base model of the building. Once the model was built, we were able to run energy and solar studies on it for the new design, and the team could work with confidence knowing that the base came from solid information.

This project also had some bonus value. The contractor discovered in construction that we had used the point cloud to create the base model. So together with point cloud and the base model, he did all his steel fabrications straight from the point cloud without doing very much field verification. Then he just designed it and some slip joints in the steel to make up for any errors that might be in the model or the point cloud and that saved him a lot of field time, I know, because he did not have to rig up people to go through and measure everything.

So using the benefits and features granted by laser scanning technology, we are now able to confidently work quickly to document a project and not only that, but we can more fully understand a project by directing our limited field time onto more intimate details and the overall big picture of a project rather than spending our time serving the less important but essential parts. Revit which we’ve been using for a long time to document existing buildings that has worked against us until now. Revit requires users working on existing structures to model the entire project before you can even begin documentation. What used to be stressful guesswork piecing together disparate fragments of information is now remedied with laser scanning for us and point clouds.

For the architecture and preservation industry, I believe point clouds act as sort of a missing link in the evolution of our current project work flow. Recent mainstream adoption of this technology, for instance we can now use point clouds directly in Revit, has sort of made this a no brainer for us as we move forward, and we start to offer it now as a standard service on most of our architectural projects because we find that a lot of people on the project team take advantage of it and can help sort of share the cost of that and earn some more value out of it.

That is all. Thank you.

Speaker Bio

Brandon C. Friske is an architectural designer in the Ann Arbor office of Quinn Evans Architects. Brandon received his Masters in Architecture from Lawrence Technological University in 2010. He is currently a member of Association of Preservation Technology – Eastern Great Lakes Chapter. Mr. Friske has been a featured speaker for laser scanning and technology at the Iron and Steel Preservation Conference and Michigan Historic Preservation Network Conference, as well a various regional venues.

National Center for Preservation Technology and Training
645 University Parkway
Natchitoches, LA 71457

Email: ncptt[at]
Phone: (318) 356-7444
Fax: (318) 356-9119