Point Cloud Surveys of Historic Landscapes
When the US Secretary of the Interior first introduced the Standards and Guidelines for Architectural and Engineering Documentation: HABS/HAER in 1983, Ronald Reagan was in the White House and most of us did not yet know how to type—let alone know how to work on a PC. This document was formulated in a pre-digital age and is, not-surprisingly, pre-digital in orientation; specifying such parameters for the documentation of historic structures as the use of black and white photography, the requisite submission of film negatives and consistency of hand-lettering. Today, some of the specific requirements seem almost quaint: “Level I measured drawings will be lettered mechanically (i.e., Leroy or similar) or in a hand printed equivalent style.” Incidentally, these standards served as a prototype for the Historic American Landscape Survey (HALS) when it was initiated in 2000.
In the decades since 1983, we have witnessed a revolution in Information Technology. It has resulted in fundamental changes to the way that disciplines such as landscape architecture and history are practiced. In the 1990s, Computer-Aided Design transformed the workflow of landscape architectural practice from design and documentation through construction. A second wave of transformation has arrived with Building Information Management (BIM) / Site Information Management (SIM) applications and is beginning to transform the roles of designer and contractor in project delivery. In the study of history today, the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for research and analysis is not uncommon. Other new technologies and software applications are now emerging with the potential to transform a wide array of disciplines from ecology to historic preservation. What follows is a discussion of one of these tools in particular—the digital “Point Cloud Survey”—and a review of its use in the context of a preservation and adaptive reuse project in Saudi Arabia.