Laser Scanning an Urban Historical Site for Renewal Planning

Some of the more rewarding aspects of our work with advanced 3D laser scanning technologies are the projects that help improve the quality of life within our society. At Direct Dimensions we often get called upon to work on such kinds of projects in many different capacities. This month we tell the story of how our laser scanning was used to help plan for the renewal and reclamation of a run-down eye-sore of a large outdoor space at the heart of a vibrant and caring community.

This is the story of an historic water reservoir that served a major urban area just across the river in New Jersey from New York City. The water works facility had served its purpose for many people for many years. The time had come for the people to serve the reservoir so that this urban oasis could continue to give to the community.

Jersey Citys Reservoir 3 Background

Constructed from 1871-1874, Jersey Citys Reservoir Number Three is important both for its historical structures and waterworks as well as for its status as the site of a burgeoning modern urban eco-system.

Utilized as a source of potable water for both Jersey City in New Jersey and originally New Yorks Ellis Island for over a hundred years, Reservoir 3 was shut down in the 1980s in favor of a newer facility. Drained in the 1990s, it began to fall into disrepair. Left alone for another ten years and the reservoir refilled naturally with plants and wildlife growing naturally. By the early 2000s a mini eco-system containing many plant and animal species not common to such urban areas had evolved. The Jersey City Reservoir Preservation Alliance was formed in 2002 to protect this rare urban environment from destruction and misuse.

Having saved the threatened Reservoir 3 from the destructive forces of decay and neglect, the Preservation Alliance then had to fight a new threat. Local business and community groups, realizing the value of 14 unused valuable urban acres pushed for the demolition of the Reservoir 3 and the subsequent redevelopment of the land.

Thanks largely due to the perseverance and community organization of the Jersey City Reservoir Preservation Alliance on February 16, 2007 Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy declared that the Reservoir would be preserved as an urban oasis. Over the next two years a plan was created for a city park that would preserve both the historical structures from the original waterworks and the reservoir dependant eco-system in a way that the surrounding community could enjoy for years to come.

An Experienced Preservation Team

In 2009 Jersey City awarded John Milner Associates the contract for the creation of the public park. John Milner Associates is a Washington D.C.-based historic preservation firm. They have facilitated extensive historical restoration and re-development in cities like Baltimore, Washington DC, Boston, and others.

John Milner Associates planned a three stage approach to the Reservoir 3 project. The first stage includes historical research about key components of the sites history to help form a plan for the historical preservation. The second phase consists of a thorough examination of the existing state of Reservoir 3, including all of its land and structures. The final phase is the actual historical preservation and park construction.

Having worked with Direct Dimensions many times in the past, the team at John Milner Associates knew that there were various documentation challenges that could be solved using 3D laser scanning technologies.

The Reservoir 3 site contained three important yet deteriorated structures: two large stone gate houses in a Romanesque style, and a tall brick screen house. The long term plan for the park is to repurpose the site with recreation facilities and to use these existing structures for educational purposes. To do this, John Milner Associates required an accurate dimensional plan of the as-built buildings in order to create the new re-development plans.

2D Drawings and 3D Models for Planning

In November 2009, Direct Dimensions technicians visited Reservoir 3 in Jersey City, NJ with our FARO Photon laser scanner. During the day, we performed about 25 high resolution 3D scans of the three buildings and their surroundings from various positions, each scan requiring about 10 minutes.

Upon returning to the Direct Dimensions facility in Owings Mills, MD, the raw scans were each loaded into PolyWorks and then cleaned and aligned together to form massive point clouds for each of the structures. These clouds were then brought into Rhino3D with the Pointools plug-in to create 3D CAD feature-based CAD models. We also produced 2D architectural drawings and site plans of the existing conditions from the laser scan data.

While the more traditional architectural drawings are still generally easier for the planners to use, the 3D models allowed the engineers to perform structural and other complex analysis to shore up the deteriorated buildings. The 3D CAD was also used to make 3D-printed plastic replicas for use in a physical architectural model to help the community and the planners understand how best to repurpose the space.

Could this project have been performed without our advanced laser scanners? Sure. But scanning provides more accuracy, more details, it is faster than traditional approaches, and the 3D CAD output is highly desirable. In todays 3D world, even the landscape architects appreciated our CAD models. Given that prior to my professional engineering career, I started my working life in landscaping, it is sure nice to see the technology come full circle.

For more on Reservoir 3 and its amazing history, visit these websites:

About the Author

Michael Raphael

Michael Raphael ... Michael earned a BS degree in Engineering Science and Mechanics from Virginia Tech, followed by a Masters of Engineering Administration from George Washington University. During his 10 years at Lockheed Martin as an engineer responsible for solving aerostructures manufacturing quality problems, Michael co-developed the FaroArm portable CMM and became the first user on the planet! In 1995, he founded Direct Dimensions, Inc., providing rapid solutions to 3D problems!