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UK team does archival 3-D laser scan for public housing museum

Tue, Dec 11, 2012

The last building of the Jane Addams homes will become the new National Public Housing Museum. See it here through a 3-D laser scan done in August.

The last remaining building of the Jane Addams public housing development has been preserved for the National Public Housing Museum (NPHM) through a 3-D laser scan undertaken by an international partnership.

Scheduled to open in phases next year, the 1930s-era building at 1322 W. Taylor St. will transform into recreations of apartments occupied by people of various ethnicities in different decades as well as offices for the museum. The NPHM proclaims itself the first institution dedicated to interpreting the experience of public and social housing “and the illumination of the resilience of poor and working class families of every ethnicity.”

“We are thoroughly excited about our partnership with the University of Birmingham and deeply grateful for the incredible laser scan created by their team,” Keith L. Magee, NPHM executive officer and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts of the United Kingdom, said at the October 19 presentation of the scan results.

“As we move toward opening the museum, it is essential to preserve the authenticity of this building designed by the team of architects led by John Holabird and lived in by thousands of families,” Magee said. “The scan allows us to keepsake an important focal point as we hold the history and look to the future of this treasured site.”

Last August, a team from the University of Birmingham spent 18 days taking 142 different surveys of the building using state-of-the-art, tripod-mounted laser-scanning equipment inside and outside the building, said Dr. Henry Chapman, co-director of do.collaboration at the University of Birmingham, in a telephone interview. As the team scanned each room, and bounced lasers off surfaces, they produced two million reference points of the museum’s walls and negative space: a metrically accurate 3D point-cloud (record) of the building as it is today, before development proceeds.

“We wanted to capture that moment before transformation into a museum, to make the best possible archive of what the building was,” Chapman said.

Presented as a video on October 19, “the beauty is it can be transformed to all kinds of things,” Chapman continued. “You can walk around and explore the virtual building, construct a very highly accurate replica model. There are all different ways of using it once we capture the information. It will be used by architects who will remake the building.” The data will allow people to see the building virtually from anywhere in the world.

Holograms that put the visitor into the virtual space are even a possibility, Chapman said. “Now that we have captured the information we will retask it again and again in the future. You are only limited by the imagination once you have the data.” As technology changes over the years, data from the scan will still be able to be retrieved, he added. “It’s a useful gift to the city that will keep on being used.”

Chapman said researchers were excited about collaborating with the National Public Housing Museum because “it’s such an important story to tell about a population that is largely disenfranchised, to tell their story, demonstrating their important contribution to society.” The do.collaboration seeks partnerships with universities, art galleries, businesses, museums and archives “to produce the greatest possible experiences, make use of the riches we have in terms of culture,” Chapman said.

The tripod-mounted laser-scanning equipment shown on top of the building at 1322 W. Taylor St., manned by a team from the University of Birmingham, England.

The do.collaboration has previously worked with a wide range of cultural and academic institutions across the UK. In Chicago, the multi-disciplinary group is currently developing projects with the Smart Museum and the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, with the Jane Addams Hull House Museum and with the Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) at the University of Illinois Chicago, with the Chicago Shakespeare Theater and the Loyola University Art Museum (LUMA).

Chapman said the University of Birmingham was excited to fund the project at National Public Housing Museum in Chicago because of its own original mission as a civic university. Started from a medical college that grew out of a workhouse infirmary, the University was chartered in 1900; it is one of six newer schools of higher education in English industrial cities. Its major benefactor was Joseph Chamberlain, a philanthropist who made his fortune in metal screws; he was a mayor of the city responsible for libraries, municipal pools and schools, and also a Liberal Party Member of Parliament.

“There are such intriguing parallels between our two cities’ histories and their visions for the future,” said Professor Malcolm Press, pro-vice-chancellor (vice president) for international engagement in the Americas at the University of Birmingham, at the October 19 event. “It seemed fitting, therefore, to work together using leading edge technology to record for posterity the NPHM’s important building before the next phase of its life.”

Written by Suzanne Hanney
StreetWise Editor-In-Chief

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