On April 15, much of the world watched in disbelief and sadness as the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burned. As devastating a loss as this fire was, the primary structure was saved and restoration efforts will soon begin. And, thanks to numerous geospatial mapping efforts over the past several years, construction, engineering and design teams have the digital resources to restore this breathtaking 800-year-old cathedral back to its former splendor.
If you are interested in learning more, here is a roundup of some recent articles discussing the merits of reality capture in historical recovery projects such as Notre Dame Cathedral:
The late Dr. Andrew Tallon, art historian, wanted to tell the story of the Notre Dame Cathedral (and its subsequent additions) builders’ decisions and also reveal unknown details of the structure, such as the fact that the interior columns at the western end of the cathedral don’t line up. He took laser scans from more than fifty locations in and around the cathedral to collect over a billion points of data. An associate professor of art at Vassar College, Tallon spent summers conducting research at Notre Dame with his students, oftentimes using or flying a drone to secure views of inaccessible areas.
The Notre Dame Cathedral was one of many Gothic buildings Tallon scanned before he passed away in 2018. He focused much of his career on studying the structure of historic buildings; and, after studying his 3D point clouds of the Notre Dame Cathedral, he questioned some of the original building standards and recommended restoration. His carefully-collected point clouds will now be integral to the structure’s renovation efforts.
A combination of Building Information Modeling (BIM) techniques and 3D laser scanning will provide the foundation for the cathedral’s entire restoration. In addition to previous scans, new 3D models of the restoration site will inevitably lead to additional discoveries and debates about the reconstruction standards.
Geospatial technology like the digital mapping utilized on the Notre Dame Cathedral, is widely being used to map and re-establish historic structures around the world. Earlier this year, 24 European countries including France, as noted in this Fortune article, agreed to cooperate on “advancing digitization of cultural heritage,” by creating intricate virtual models of key historical artifacts and sites. The Notre Dame Cathedral is a prime example of the why “the time is now” to map our historical icons.
Note: If you are new to 3D scanning, and the data it produces, below is a 3D model of the front facade of Notre Dame taken a few years ago (this section was not destroyed in the recent fire). We've loaded the 3D point cloud into Sketchfab's online viewer that you can explore.