Ukraine War: How do You Document Destroyed Buildings?
Many of Ukraine’s historic monuments have been destroyed in the three months since Russia invaded, but cultural experts are working to conserve their memory using cutting-edge technology and 3D scans.
One of them is volunteer French engineer Emmanuel Durand, a specialist in 3D data acquisition, who is assisting a bevy of architects, engineers, historic building experts and a museum director to record buildings in Kyiv, Lviv, Chernigiv and Kharkiv.
Durand steps over a jumbled pile of beams and crunches over the rubble that was once Kharkiv’s 19th-century fire station.
He plants his laser scanner, a sort of tripod with a pivoting head, in a strategic corner of the severely damaged building.
The redbrick fire station and its watchtower, built in 1887, are a monument to Kharkiv’s industrial revolution.
Durand’s gadget records the building from all angles.
“The scanner records 500,000 points per second. We’ll get 10 million points from this location. Then we’ll change location and go round the whole building, outside and inside. A billion points in all,” he explains.
At the end of the day, Durand assembles all the data on a computer “like the pieces of a jigsaw” to digitally reconstruct the building.
The result is a perfect reproduction, accurate to within five millimetres (a fraction of an inch) that can be rotated in any direction or sliced into sections. You can even see the holes where blast waves from explosions have damaged the structure.
“This enables us to map out the building for the future. That could help us work out if anything has moved, which is important for safety purposes, and see what can be restored and what can’t. It’s also useful from a historical point of view,” he says.
“We’ve got the actual missile-damaged building and an exact replica of how it used to look.”
In Kharkiv alone, around 500 buildings are listed as being of historic architectural significance. Most are in the dense historic city centre, on which Russian airstrikes are concentrated, according to architect Kateryna Kuplytska, a member of the body documenting damaged heritage sites.
She estimates that over a hundred of them have been hit already.
And while Russian troops have loosened their noose around Ukraine’s second city, shells still rain down with regular monotony.
New explosions and blast waves, inclement weather, construction work and site visits will all contribute to hastening the destruction of these already weakened buildings, Kuplytska says.