- Associated Press - Saturday, April 27, 2019

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - When Robert Bork, an art history professor at the University of Iowa, saw Notre Dame Cathedral in flames recently, he couldn’t watch.

Years before, he’d studied the construction of the Paris cathedral in great detail and knew what was coming - the spire would become engulfed in flames and fall.

Bork, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on church spires, had studied 3D laser scans of the Notre Dame and discovered that the east end of Notre Dame was built slightly rotated, an apparent construction flaw.

University of Iowa professors and a growing number of students are using that same laser technology to map Iowa’s landmarks, The Des Moines Register reported. In recent years they’ve scanned Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City’s beer caves, the Everly Brothers’ childhood home in Shenandoah, and Cedar Rapids’ now-demolished Bever Building.

Bork, who has written extensively on Gothic architecture, leads UI’s undergraduate art history department. His friend Andrew Tallon had shared his 3D laser scans of the iconic church, and Bork was able to study how the church was built - fulfilling a longtime dream, he said.

Tallon died of cancer late last year at age 49. He was a world-renowned art historian known for his detailed scans of more than 45 buildings. He was the first to use the laser technology, which originated in basic forms around 1960, as a way to inspect medieval construction methods, according to National Geographic.

Princeton’s Robert Mark, a friend and mentor to Tallon and Bork who pioneered analysis of Gothic cathedrals with modern engineering techniques, died in March at age 88.

Bork said they would have been heartbroken to witness the burning cathedral at the center of Paris. “Neither of them had to see what happened to Notre Dame and its spire, which would have hurt.”

The LiDAR method, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging, uses a laser to measure the distance to various points.

The data that results is used to form a 3D map that is accurate within millimeters, said Adam Skibbe, a University of Iowa professor and geographic information systems (GIS) analyst.

Skibbe teaches courses in which students learn how to map buildings and natural structures using lasers. He and his students plan to soon map Iowa’s Maquoketa Caves.

Mapping Iowa landmarks like Kinnick Stadium “is one of the ways we teach our students about how these things are used out in the real world,” he said. (Those interested in recommending an Iowa landmark or building to be scanned by Skibbe’s LiDAR students can reach out to the professor directly.)

After 2000, the lasers used in LiDAR scans became more widely available. And in the years since Tallon captured a billion points of data in his Notre Dame scans, the technology has improved dramatically.

After seeing what Skibbe and Michelle Wienhold, another Iowa GIS analyst, had mapped around the state, Bork wanted to take the technology to the French cathedrals he’s spent his life studying.

“There were several buildings that are really, really dear to me that (Stephen) Murray and Tallon and their team had not scanned,” he said. Murray, a Columbia University art historian, first introduced Tallon to LiDAR technology.

Bork, Skibbe and Wienhold traveled to France for a couple of weeks to map French cathedrals in Reims and Metz. The group included UI students Rebecca Smith and Drew Hutchinson, and Belgian professor Pierre Hallot, a former UI post-doctoral researcher.

Bork is specifically interested in how the cathedrals were designed. He uses the databases as a sort of blueprint to figure out the planning process. Original design plans for most medieval buildings no longer exist, he said.

“So if you want to study what the designers were doing, you have to have a very good plan showing what the building is actually like, and that’s where the laser scanning comes in,” said Bork.

Similarly, Tallon’s scans will be used as a blueprint as France works to rebuild Notre Dame to its original beauty. As sad as Bork was to see the damage to the famous cathedral, he said the way the spire fell saved the flying buttresses from major damage.

Bork said he shares Murray’s vision to “get the cathedral into the classroom.”

From French cathedrals to the beer caves of Iowa City, Bork said having access to the fruits of LiDAR technology in Iowa is like “being a kid in a candy shop.”

“The 3D experience is so much different than seeing one angle or another,” he said.


Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com

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