The world watched in horror and sadness yesterday as the 850-year-old Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris burned. This morning, however, the tone has shifted from utter sorrow to hope, as plans to rebuild are already underway. In just a short time, hundreds of millions of euros have been pledged to rebuild Paris’ most iconic cathedral.
The rebuilding process will undoubtedly take some time—it is not yet clear whether it will be rebuilt to its former glory or updated for our modern times—but there is something that will help the restoration process along. Like in other cases where the world’s cultural heritage has been at risk of ruin or has been destroyed, 3D scanning could play a critical role.
In 2015, architectural historian Dr. Andrew Tallon led an effort to 3D scan the entire Notre-Dame de Paris structure in order to create an accurate digital replica of the medieval Catholic cathedral. Dr. Tallon used state-of-the-art lasers to map the cathedral’s whole interior and exterior—in what is arguably one of the more ambitious 3D scanning projects to date.
To ensure precision, the now deceased historian carefully measured the time the laser took to reach its target and return. Interestingly, at the time Dr. Tallon did not set out to undertake a cultural preservation initiative, he simply wanted to understand more about the cathedral’s structure.
“I’ve been interested in the way that gothic buildings stand up and the way they handle themselves structurally and, unfortunately for me, there’s nothing written about it,” he said in a National Geographic video. “So I’ve been using more sophisticated technology these days to try to get new answers from the buildings and the best technology that could solve certain problems like this was the laser scanner.”
Today, the detailed digital replica of the severely damaged cathedral could play an important role in its rebuilding. Yesterday’s fire destroyed Notre-Dame’s 19th century spire and much of the cathedral’s wooden roof—which dates back to the early 12th century. Thankfully, a digital model is out there to support the restoration project going forward.