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Why We Invested in 3D Point Cloud Technology

Updated: May 2, 2023

In the historic cities of Charlottesville and Baltimore, where Design Develop’s two offices are based, it’s not uncommon for us to have multiple projects where we’re working on buildings that are 100 years old or more.


We love this type of work - designing around history, and reimagining spaces for modern use. But one of the primary challenges of working on structures of this age is not having up-to-date blueprints and detailed “as built” information.


Buildings may be inanimate, but they are not static. As the use and intention, as well as ownership of buildings change, they must evolve to meet new needs. In an ideal world, every one of these changes is permitted, documented and historically cataloged, but we all know this isn’t the case. Even if purposeful revisions were recorded, it wouldn’t tell the story of how a building naturally changes over time, as materials and building methods age.





Previously, the first step of a project dealing with any existing structure was to measure, measure again, document, and make educated guesses in some cases, as to the placement and condition of certain aspects of a building. From there, designs can be created and construction moves forward, but inevitably something surprising will arise during this step that simply wasn’t visible, recorded or obvious from the beginning. These unknowns can slow down a project, alter a beautiful design and frustrate everyone involved.


Fortunately, technology has advanced in the last few years in ways that allow us to avoid the old method of measurement and educated guesses, and it’s called 3D Point Cloud scanning. This process involves using a laser scanner, or lidar, to gather data points in 3D space. A laser scanner sends out a beam of light that reflects off surfaces and returns to the scanner, creating a measurement. This process is repeated many times per second to capture millions of data points, creating a dense cloud of points in 3D space that represents the scanned object or environment. This data is then converted into a 3D model using special software, and it provides accurate, detailed representations of structures, surfaces, and objects.





From the rafters to the basement; from studs to staircases, the 3D Point Cloud scanner shows us everything behind the walls of this formerly abandoned building awaiting its major renovation.


Additionally, every surface is assigned a color on the RGB color scale, so that the final result is a highly accurate and detailed digital representation of the physical structure or environment, which can be used for a variety of purposes such as building analysis, design, visualization, and documentation. It is hundreds of times more accurate and robust than human measurement and speculation alone.


We started working with 3D Point Cloud hardware and software through a third party provider a few years ago and quickly realized it was a service we wanted to be able to provide to our clients in-house. So in 2019, we invested in the equipment, software and hundreds of hours in training to master our workflow. Shortly thereafter we also hired a field technician whose job is to specifically work with the equipment as well as the software renderings of the data. This service has been immensely helpful to our architecture clients as well as building and construction services that are adjacent to ours to whom we are now able to offer one-off 3D scanning services.


This technology has allowed us to expand the services we provide our clients while also dialing in on technical accuracy which reduces issues during construction, keeping projects on schedule and budget. It’s also an incredibly helpful visual tool to be able to show clients, architecture review boards, contractors and building owners when blueprints and even renderings can’t show the full scope of a project or existing structure.





Since we’ve invested in this technology, we’ve discovered even more purposes and client types that it can serve, and have been amazed by the results and applicability in so many scenarios. We’ll be diving more deeply into these over the next few blogs, so stay tuned to find out how we’ve been able to provide scanning services to schools, historical societies, nonprofits, building managers, home owners, engineers, and contractors.



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