In April of 2019, the world watched in horror as one of mankind’s greatest architectural achievements, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, was devastated by a massive blaze. Fortunately, a professor from Vassar College had used a new form of scanner technology to create a highly accurate 3D model of the building just a few years prior. Every detail of the 13th century building had been recorded to a digital archive, providing hope that the cathedral could be restored.
Milwaukee-based TechRender LLC, a company offering building documentation services, seeks to do the same with its scanning technology – digitally preserve historic buildings.
Dan Wilhelms, president and founder of TechRender, is no stranger to starting a business. He founded Brookfield-based Symmetry Corp. and sold it 10 years ago. The firm then ran its business out of some of the historic mansions on the East Side of Milwaukee.
“As a building owner, I became interested in historic preservation,” said Wilhelms. “We had to adapt these buildings for modern usage. So, like many entrepreneurs, I saw a need, started as a customer and built a business around it.”
The company’s technology captures 3D renderings of buildings using digital laser scanning. This is opposed to the old-fashioned method of having a crew show up in person to take measurements and photos, later using them to create a 2D CAD drawing. That method can be labor intensive and inaccurate, Wilhelms explained.
“With historic buildings, there’s always the complaint that there’s never the right angle. Things are crooked, things are unique, things are missing. These are hard things to capture,” said Wilhelms.
TechRender specifically uses LIDAR scanners, which function like a police radar. The scanners shoot out a beam of light, which bounces back from whatever point it hits. A mirror spins around on the device and collects nearly a million points per second. Points are then recorded to create what is called a point cloud. That point cloud is then stored digitally. The point cloud is a computer model of all the recorded dots. The 3D model is accurate within a millimeter, and a model can be created within a day.
After a building is scanned, TechRender can then use the 3D model to create useful documents, such as floor plans and elevations. This can be of particular use to those working on historic preservation projects, as there are often no original drawings of historic buildings. Wilhelms said, at best, a building owner may have some grainy photos to work with. The 3D model gives a building owner a core base of knowledge to work off.
“It’s really hard to start a renovation project if you don’t have any accurate drawings,” said Wilhelms. “The laser scanning solves an immediate business problem. It’s a new way of experiencing architecture without going to the site.”
To specifically target the historic preservation industry, TechRender has introduced a new HP JumpStart Service to provide building owners with all the documentation they would need for a project in a cost-effective way. The 3D model allows a user to know basic pieces of information like how much square footage they have and how much of that space is usable. They can also build plans around the 3D model. Wilhelms explained traditional building documentation methods could cost thousands of dollars, while using TechRender is about $1,000.
The documentation that TechRender provides can help building owners with applications to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“There are peculiar documentation requirements to get on the register,” said Wilhelms. “If you get on the register, you can get significant historic tax credits for your project. It can also be a platform for fundraising.”
There’s also an educational component to TechRender’s 3D models. If historic buildings are destroyed, these models can provide historical documentation of them.
“Digital capture of buildings is real, it’s easy and it’s affordable. It enables you to get farther down into your project to make informed, real-world decisions on what you’re going to do with a building,” said Wilhelms.
Innovation: LIDAR scanners that produce 3D modelsFounder: Dan Wilhelms, president and founder