Engineers help develop new tech to care for Scotland’s traditional buildings

Image shows: Rubble masonry wall of Linlithgow Palace as analysed by the new software tool, with automatically extracted individual stones and mortar regions shown.
Image shows: Rubble masonry wall of Linlithgow Palace as analysed by the new software tool, with automatically extracted individual stones and mortar regions shown.
Researchers in the School of Engineering have helped develop innovative new technology which could transform how Scotland’s historic buildings are managed, maintained and repaired.

Dr Frédéric Bosché, the School’s Senior Lecturer in Construction Informatics, has worked with Historic Environment Scotland (HES) and Heriot-Watt University to develop the technology which has just been launched as a free software tool.

The tool will allow surveys and fabric inspections of traditional buildings to be carried out digitally, bringing wide-ranging benefits to Scotland’s built heritage and those working to preserve it.

Detailed 3D modelling

The tool creates a realistic 3D model of a masonry walls using a combination of data from:

  • laser scanning, which gives precise 3D data in the form of a point cloud, and;
  • photogrammetry, which involves the use of multiple overlapping digital photos.

From this data, the tool can then automatically segment the wall into component parts (stones and mortar regions), making it easier to detect defects and extract information relevant to conservation works.

Wide-ranging benefits

The tool has been made freely accessible for the conservation sector to use, in the hope that it will be widely adopted by professionals involved in the conservation and maintenance of traditional buildings.

Laser scanning and photogrammetry, used in combination with this technology, could greatly improve the efficiency of surveying historic buildings, enabling rapid automated analysis to be done remotely. The tool also offers a cost-effective alternative to traditional methods of inspection which require manual survey and often scaffolding.

Dr Bosché explained: “Digital technologies have a great role to play in optimising our resources and use of human expertise to preserve our rich historic built environment. This tool aims to improve the efficiency of what is otherwise tedious and time-consuming work, and thereby frees surveyors to focus on activities that really demand their expertise.”

Use of this new technology could also strongly support efforts to tackle climate change and national carbon reduction targets, by making it easier and more effective to repair, reuse and retrofit existing buildings.

Preserving Scotland’s heritage

Lyn Wilson, Digital Documentation Manager at HES, said: “Scotland is home to a rich and diverse built environment of around half a million traditional buildings. Around 20% of the nation’s housing stock is made up of traditional buildings, and it is crucial that these existing assets can be repaired, maintained and adapted effectively to support national sustainability commitments.

"This new tool offers the advantage of being able to conduct inspection and analysis of 3D data remotely, while still obtaining precise results.”

Dr Alan Forster, Associate Professor in Building conservation, low carbon materials and construction technology at Heriot Watt University, added: “Financial austerity forces us to focus more than ever on cost-efficient, accurate evaluation of our historic buildings. The ability of our open source digital technologies to support these activities enables the money for repair to be spent where it is most urgently needed, namely on the building itself.”

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