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3D Laser Scanning Brings Accuracy in Exterior Restoration

Alan Barr, owner of Stone Details, explains how technology brings important advances to surveys and documentation for existing buildings

3D laser scanning and digital measuring devices have ushered in a new era of building surveying and documentation, but the days of tape measures and clipboards are not completely gone yet. Laser scanning and digital measuring systems have been around for years. These tools are used for a wide variety of building documentation needs, from obtaining the surface area square footage of complex rocked face building stones, to interior stud wall layout to scanning structures of historic sites.

As Alan Barr, owner of Stone Details LLC, explains, digital technology plays a large part in the survey and documentation of existing building conditions, and how those conditions relate to the design of architectural stone for building façade restoration, but to obtain the accuracy required for their projects, old school drafting tools are still used to get the best results.

When Barr founded Towne House Restorations in 1987, their market was the replication of ornamental terra cotta, limestone and brownstone using concrete based materials. "We cut our teeth riding rigs and measuring stones, masonry openings and structural steel configurations to fabricate stones that fit the exact existing condition, or newly designed steel condition, in which they would be installed." Stone Details, LLC was formed in 2009 to carry that mission on to the façade restoration industry by providing detailed building façade surveys to create existing exterior condition drawings for architects and engineers, and stone replication drafting services for the natural stone industry. "We still ride rigs, but now with powerful digital data capture equipment along with our tape measures," says Barr.

On a recent project at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, 3D laser scanning (above) and other digital measuring tools were used in conjunction with conventional surveying equipment to prepare a set of existing conditions drawings (left) for the landmarked copper domed pinnacles on the roof of the building.

The Waldorf Astoria Project

On a recent project at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, 3D laser scanning and other digital measuring tools were used in conjunction with conventional surveying equipment to prepare a set of existing conditions drawings for the landmarked copper domed pinnacles on the roof of the building. The billion-dollar restoration of the Waldorf was one of the largest restoration projects in the history of New York City. It involved gutting the 44 story, full city block structure and the renovation of the entire interior into mixed use hotel, residential and commercial. Some planned residential units were to be multistory and involved reconfiguring existing concrete floors and structural steel which created an extremely complex coordination effort for the GC and architect. This impressive undertaking includes the crown jewel of the project: the conversion of the two roof top pinnacle structures, which originally housed the roof top water towers, into two fabulous penthouses.

Pinnacle Detailing Project Scope

The project team comprised of construction manager AECOM Tishman, architect Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, structural engineer Silman, exterior wall consultant Vidaris, and Pullman as the restoration contractor on the job. Because of the condition of the pinnacles, the plans called for the demolition of the structures. Since the structures were landmarked, they would have to be rebuilt to the exact same exterior appearance, including the brick masonry and stone design. That required a dimensionally accurate set of existing conditions drawings suitable for the architect and structural engineer to incorporate into their construction documents. There are two pinnacles, one east and one west. Each pinnacle has 4 stories of brick masonry and stone and a copper dome which is practically 4 stories in itself. The footprint was complex with the brick masonry stepping from the 43rd to 44th and then to 45th floors with a series of setbacks and parapets. The shape was octagonal, and although the two pinnacles appeared to be mirror opposites, that was not the case. It was ultimately decided that the copper dome would remain in place and be repaired as required, but that the masonry and stone structure would be demolished and rebuilt to match the original. Stone Details was awarded the contract to provide the survey work and prepare the existing conditions drawings.

3D laser scan image (right) of vent assembly.


The Devil Is in The Details!

As Barr stresses "surveying these structures involved every tool in the belt… Faro 3D laser scanner for the buildings, handheld laser scanner for the details, auto levels, laser measuring devices, total station, as well as tapes, levels, and bevel tools. Benchmark elevations were established on every floor by the interior survey team."

Stone Details used laser levels to transfer these benchmarks to the exterior walls of the pinnacles to tie the pinnacle exterior wall features and roof elevations to the benchmark system for the building. All building features, brick setbacks, ornamental stone assemblies, brick pier heights and ornamental copper locations were referenced to this system for use in rebuilding the structure. The Pullman team provided over 40 probes so that the locations and configurations of the existing structural steel, as well as the depth and design of the ornamental stone could be documented. After obtaining the exact measurements of the existing conditions, some measurements were standardized to eliminate the obvious conditions where existing masonry had cracked or bulged thus re-creating the perfect octagon for each pinnacle for which they were originally designed. The deliverable was a comprehensive set of measured existing condition drawings provided for both pinnacles along with a comprehensive 3D laser scan of both pinnacles.

Measurement Redundancy is Key to Accuracy

"You might wonder," says Barr, "with all the laser and digital technology available these days for building measurement, why is it still necessary to use a tape measure? Laser scans do not automatically create a perfect drawing. They generally require postproduction software for the scan to be imported into a drawing program. As with many technologies, sometimes the effort required to use the technology is more time consuming than the less high-tech alternative. There is also the ‘belt and suspenders’ philosophy. I have been involved in projects where the scans, for one reason or another, have lacked the accuracy required for our work. So, we double check the scan data against real world measurements. Nothing beats reading a tape, especially when your name is on the bottom line."

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