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Detroit Mercy professors’ Volterra Reality Capture Workshop wins 2017 AIA Innovation People’s Choice Award

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December 08, 2017
Students scan the ruins in Volterra, Italy.

The Volterra Reality Capture Workshop run by University of Detroit Mercy professors won the 2017 American Institute of Architects (AIA) Innovation People’s Choice Award.

The Reality Capture Workshop (located in the city of Volterra, Italy) is a long-term collaborative project to create a complete digital documentation of a historical city and a methodology for the information dissemination.

The workshop was run by Detroit Mercy Associate Professor of Architecture Wladek Fuchs and Detroit Mercy adjunct professor Mark Dietrick of Case Technologies in Pittsburgh. The project was supported by Autodesk Inc. and Autodesk special projects executive Tristan Randall.

“The entire team was absolutely thrilled about the award,” Fuchs said. “We knew from the beginning that what we were doing was unique and worthwhile, but it is always a long way from knowing the value of your work to the recognition at the national level.”

The main purpose of the workshop is to provide an international educational and research experience in which students and professionals learn to use innovative reality-capture technologies and collaboratively produce three-dimensional computer models of the ancient city of Volterra.

“The primary goal of the Reality Capture Workshop is to push the technology to the limit in human service. To use the 3D laser scanning and photogrammetry to record and preserve digitally valuable historical sites,” Fuchs said. “Volterra is a relatively small city, so our ambition is to actually document it all. There are many reasons for it, too, one of them is the ability to monitor the changes in the historical structures over time, or — if necessary — reconstruction if a natural disaster strikes, like it does quite often in Italy. Another goal is to bring together a multidisciplinary team, where we can all learn from each other. 

“The quality of the documentation obtained in the new way allowed us to make some very interesting discoveries about the history of the historical sites in Volterra, and the history of ancient architecture altogether. This is not a goal, but the outcome exceeded our wildest dreams.”

Detroit Mercy Architecture students participating in the study abroad program in Volterra were able to help with the workshop.

The workshop is organized by the specialists in the field and with the support of the hardware and software companies.

Participants gained hands-on experience in using laser scanning, drones and cameras to capture the city and some of its treasured artworks into digital models. They were also able experiment with the new, innovative technologies while collaboratively producing digital replicas of the city.

“Detroit Mercy Architecture students actively participated in the workshop, learning how to operate the 3D laser scanner and how to process the data,” Fuchs said. “All students who participated in the SOA Volterra study abroad program were also able to work with the 3D point cloud of the site for the studio project.”

The workshop also inspired the School of Architecture to incorporate the technology into some of the coursework back in Detroit.

“Inspired by the outcome of the Workshop, the School of Architecture purchased a drone,” Fuchs said. “Many students were trained to operate it, so they can use it in their design studio work as well. They are learning aerial photography and photogrammetry.

“Essentially, the technology and the experience of the Reality Capture Workshop has been immediately applied in the SOA coursework and the overall student learning experience.”

The Reality Capture Workshop was a unique project, something the AIA jury certainly noticed saying, “This project is extraordinary in its scope and aspiration and a great example of using typical reality capture tools in atypical ways. The historic preservation advances made by recording and filling in research gaps is admirable, highlighting the need for digital capture in the field. The team’s ability to build necessary local relationships and effectively deliver on the research questions amplifies their contribution. We are excited to see how the project develops, scales, and becomes more accessible.”

Fuchs is looking forward to continuing the work during the next study abroad program.

“I just can't wait to get more data to analyze and discover new things,” Fuchs said. “The award is also an encouragement to continue to work. Not that we had any doubt before, but it gives you additional strength. We are organizing the next round of the Reality Capture Workshop in April.”

For more information on Detroit Mercy’s School of Architecture and its study abroad program please visit their website at architecture.udmercy.edu. To learn more about the Volterra-Detroit Foundation please visit their website at volterra-detroit.org.

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