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Affordable laser-scanning aims to save Gujarat heritage sites

Words:
Stephen Cousins

Earthquakes destroy history and culture in Gujarat, but a project to create inexpensive and speedy LiDAR scanning could help remote communities rebuild rather than demolish

A damaged house in the village of Nirona in Gujarat, India in 2014.
A damaged house in the village of Nirona in Gujarat, India in 2014. Credit: Dr Jigna Desai.

A laser-scanning technique being developed to protect architectural heritage sites in India will be scalable and applicable to other locations worldwide, the lead researcher on the project has claimed.

Academics at Nottingham Trent University have kicked off an 11-month project to investigate the use of LiDAR to 3D scan heritage buildings in Gujarat so they can be repaired and re-constructed in the wake of an earthquake.

A ‘fast and affordable’ digital approach will be developed to break the current unsustainable cycle of damaged buildings being demolished and rebuilt, and the associated loss of cultural history. It will also inform the design of mitigation measures and related technical assessments.

Bernadette Devilat, principal investigator at the School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment, told RIBAJ: ‘The methodology will aim to provide a more sustainable and feasible approach for communities that do not have easy access to building materials, due to their location and resources, avoiding relocation. The methodology is scalable and we aim to make it applicable to similar cases in India and worldwide.’

Researchers will collect on-site LiDAR data covering most of the interior and exterior spaces of a heritage village, including around 30 houses, during two field trips to Gujarat in 2021.

A 3D digital version of the site, images, videos, and architectural technical drawings of the whole village and of each house will be created and used in collaboration with the community to develop a risk mitigation plan and a re-construction strategy focused on re-use and repairs.

A house at the village of Suthri in Gujarat, India in 2012.
A house at the village of Suthri in Gujarat, India in 2012. Credit: Dr Jigna Desai.

A guidance document will also be produced as a practical tool for governments, local authorities, NGOs, and relevant stakeholders keen to manage the sustainable recovery of heritage areas affected by earthquakes.

‘The innovation is how we will use the technology as part of a research method to simultaneously tackle the wider scale of the village and the smaller scale of the housing,’ said Devilat. ‘This is significant in post-earthquake areas because damaged buildings can number in the hundreds, so a rapid, affordable and scalable approach from the existing context is key.’

‘Terrestrial LiDAR is highly accurate and fast; the three-dimensional point-clouds have millimetre precision and even small cracks and distortions can be captured. ‘This, combined with the ethnographic information we capture, is of extreme relevance to support sustainable livelihoods,’ added Devilat.

Other partners in the project include the Centre for Heritage Conservation, CEPT Research and Development Foundation in Ahmedabad, the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property in Rome and the Hunnarshala Foundation in India.

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