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Scanning smarter: Using reality capture on renovations

July 24, 2020

How 3D scans can save clients time and money

By Zilda Hijazin and David Kury

This article first appeared as “Scanning smarter” in the Stantec Design Quarterly, Issue 09.

In the past, the ability to see spaces precisely as they are and walk through them in three-dimension sounded like science fiction. Enter Google Earth. Now anyone, anywhere could visit any place on Earth from our backyard to the pyramids. Today, advances in reality capture technology have made this technology more accessible than ever before. Hyper-detailed virtual walkthroughs for buildings is now a reality. This technology holds enormous potential for the architecture and construction industries. So how are architects and designers using these powerful digital tools to capture, explore, and document spaces?      

At Stantec, our designers are using programs like Matterport, a 3D scanning product that originated as a real estate marketing tool. Matterport’s power is in its ability to stitch together thousands of images. Move it through a space two meters at a time and its camera captures detailed, zoomable 360-degree visuals. It’s essentially a 3D mapping tool.

Document what exists

When walking through a space, we absorb an abundance of information that conventional two-dimensional plans and photos simply cannot communicate. We discovered that Matterport is a fantastic tool for documenting the existing conditions of a site, remote or not. Now, we are using 3D flythroughs on most of our healthcare renovation projects in British Columbia. If we have any existing space, whether its shelled space or otherwise, scanning it and making a digital twin is always our first step.

For example, our Victoria office is working on a renovation to the surgical daycare unit within a hospital on Vancouver Island. Hospitals are notoriously hard places to document in detail due to their 24/7 operation and infection control concerns. We can quickly scan a space in off-peak hours to limit disruptions to operations. During a global pandemic like COVID-19, rather than sending our staff into a dangerous environment, we can virtually re-walk the space at the click of a button from our home office.

The power of conversation

We thought the most powerful feature of 3D scanning would be its ability to link the point cloud scan generated with our BIM and Revit models. In our experience, the most influential aspect has been how it revolutionized the quality of conversations we have with clients and consultants. No 2D image has ever been as useful as a client walking the existing space with us as they show us how and where they work. Now, with these fly-throughs, we can speak to them from anywhere while they move through the space in three dimensions. We’ve been amazed at the depth and richness of the conversation this immersive environment generates. The fly-through enables clients to show and tell simultaneously. We can point to an area and ask: What's going on here? How often do you use this medical gas outlet, or this light fixture? The digital twin allows us to get straight to the point. We’ve even begun sketching overtop of the flythrough and saving screenshots as our meeting markups. Even if we’re designing a new building, a Matterport scan of the client’s existing space to understand how and where they work can be valuable. The 3D walkthrough can help the design team and the client develop the functional program of a new hospital.

A tool for collaboration

Stantec is a big company with experts across the globe. Now, when we are flying in an expert for a day to meet and talk about their project, we can virtually walk them through the space in detail and get them up to speed before client meetings. Similarly, the 3D imaging makes it possible to have a conversation with equipment suppliers about replacement versus salvage of existing equipment. When we can virtually walk up to a refrigerator and share a model number, we get answers more quickly.

Remote locations, property maintenance, equipment replacement

This tool continues to be useful well after the design phase of a project too. We’ve started including the fly-throughs within our contract documents. We’re also considering virtual contractor walkthroughs, which could have the potential to increase the interest in remote project locations. Now they can see and re-see the conditions as many times as necessary while they bid the job, and the information can be shared with their subcontractors as well. There’s a great potential for clients to use the Matterport data going forward. Several health authorities in lower mainland Canada are considering purchasing 3D scanning tools. These authorities are responsible for maintenance of numerous properties and are looking for better ways to document the existing conditions at each.

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Seeing infrastructure

Oftentimes, there are significant pieces of complex infrastructure in older buildings. Years of renovations, additions, and numerous changes make tracking existing condition particularly challenging for both the client and project team. Existing drawings often remain outdated, leaving many design decisions to be verified in the field and during construction. A digital twin lets us virtually pinpoint the location of that infrastructure relative to the rest of the building.

Before and after

3D scans and digital twins are starting to become great tools for telling the detailed before and after story about a project. Ideally, we will have a library of various projects in 3D to show to potential clients. If we’re doing a new hospice project, our client can virtually tour our last three hospice projects. It’s the next best thing to having them walk through your projects in real time. It's really powerful.

Point cloud scanning to mitigate risk

In Philadelphia and elsewhere, we are using point cloud to map existing three-dimensional space as accurately as possible. Point cloud technology is less about visuals and more about creating a data map of existing conditions in 3D. Done right, the point cloud can capture and document the 3D geometry of above ceiling fixtures over and above walls. It documents existing conditions in a single, accurate 3D model. You're really seeing spaces that you would not see in a survey armed with the assurance that your 3D model is an accurate representation of reality. The point cloud we receive from our scanning service is very detailed, so we simplify the data to make it compatible with our BIM model. For a client that’s been burned before by its unpredictable and troublesome space, the point clouds offer some potential validation before design and construction.

No 2D image has ever been as useful as a client walking the existing space with us as they show us how and where they work. Now, with these fly-throughs, we can speak to them from anywhere while they move through the space in three dimensions.

For example, one of our clients has a very old building that has been renovated many times and has a variety of poorly documented MEP and structural conditions. In the past, upon starting field work, they encountered major challenges that led to additional costs and delays. To elevate our approach and better serve our client, we decided to utilize a digital twin to provide more accurate design solutions. We used the cloud-based digital twin management platform Cintoo. The point-cloud scans and our data management tools help us gather and understand existing conditions to better mitigate project risk. Using Cintoo—and bit of help from our geospatial technology colleagues in Edmonton, Alberta—we're able to seamlessly incorporate our digital twin data into our BIM and Revit work flow.

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Validate clash detection

We can use reality capture for an existing space to conduct clash detection with our BIM model. Once we have received the point cloud, we import that data into our model and continue to design and document as we would usually. Now we have an overlay that we can use to validate our design against existing conditions.

For example, if we need to demolish a wall we can see whether that will result in major complications for mechanical systems. It’s all about eliminating those gotcha moments and making the most informed design decisions about the renovation. Ideally, the investment in point cloud scanning and clash modeling in the design phase enables us to validate our deliverables and therefore mitigate changes during the construction phase. Construction changes result in premium charges. So, by minimizing them we’re saving our clients money. With point cloud scans interfacing our drawings, we’re delivering a highly accurate model of existing spaces to the client that will not only validate our design but will be of use to architects, designers, and engineers moving forward on future renovations.

Reality capture technology is a significant addition to the architect’s toolbox and we’ve only begun to uncover its potential.


About the Authors

Zilda Hijazin is an architectural designer specializing in healthcare and master planning. She works with her team in Philadelphia bringing projects from concept to fruition.

Architect David Kury works out of Stantec’s office in Victoria with a focus on healthcare projects in British Columbia. He was recently part of the team that completed two new acute care hospitals on Vancouver Island.

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