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Preserving Ukrainian Culture with Lidar

Photo of Sergey Revenko Preserving Ukrainian Culture

Sergey Revenko drove into Chernihiv a few days after the bombing of the Youth Library to deliver boxes of food to the city’s survivors and to help with preserving Ukrainian culture. What he saw looked like something out of a newsreel from another era. “There were people standing in line waiting for food” and the line seemed to stretch for a mile. “It really upset me, made me mad.”

He’d heard about the destruction of the Youth Library on the news, so he walked over to get a closer look. He was shocked by the damage. It had been a near miss. A giant bomb had left a crater where the library’s garden had once been. The hole was the size of a school bus. The building looked like it was going to slip down into it.

Revenko pulled out his camera and snapped a picture. This wasn’t just wartime voyeurism, this is what Revenko does. He’s an architect, a surveyor and a specialist in 3D scanning and photogrammetry.

Photogrammetry literally means the act of deriving precise measurements from photographs, and it involves taking a set of overlapping photos of an object, or a building or a person and then rendering them in three dimensions by using computer algorithms.

After he took that first picture, he looked around, wondering if someone might shout at him and tell him to stop. Was this like filming a crime scene? “I was really nervous at the time because maybe I was doing something illegal,” he said. Policemen were close by, and they were eyeing him. He snapped more and more pictures. “I took a thousand photographs that time,” he said.

He had images from every conceivable angle. “It’s really necessary for photogrammetry to work to have each photo capture at least 60 percent of the previous photo,” he said.

All the cracks we cannot see

But Revenko wanted to go a step further. So he got together with some other architects and laid his hands on a laser scanner — it looks like a miniature R2-D2 robot — to capture every piece of the library inside and out to help with the reconstruction.

If that technique sounds vaguely familiar, it should. About 10 years ago, an art professor at Vassar named Andrew Tallon took a Leica scanner to Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris and created a digital record of the building (he took high-resolution panoramic photos, like Revenko did, as well). What he could not have known was that there would be a devastating fire in the cathedral almost a decade later and his scans would prove to be crucial in its reconstruction.

Drawings or archival material don’t provide the same sort of blueprint that laser data does. “The laser scan gives you millions of points that are incredibly precise measurements,” he said. “Better than a human could ever do.”

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