Lasers Document Iconic Synagogue Every Single Detail of Historic Wright Building Is Recorded

Article excerpt

ELKINS PARK, Pa. -- It's a stunner that still turns heads at the age of 53, but Frank Lloyd Wright's iconic Beth Sholom synagogue just had a laser treatment.

Although it won't do anything for your laugh lines, an invaluable tool uses lasers to create three-dimensional maps in minute detail for historic documentation and preservation.

Three backpack-sized scanners mounted on heavy-duty tripods were set in strategic spots inside and outside the landmark building outside Philadelphia this month, slowly rotating 360 degrees while shooting out green pulses of light 50,000 times a second. Each light beam wirelessly transmits a single line of corresponding points to a nearby laptop; row by row, the image takes shape.

It took three days to complete the roughly 40 indoor and 20 outdoor scans needed to digitally map the entire structure's every nook, cranny and flourish. Next, the hundreds of millions of collected data points will be turned into a three-dimensional scale model of the synagogue.

The project was undertaken by Abington-based DJS Associates, which often performs laser scans to document crime and crash scenes for forensic investigations, and Oakland, Calif.-based CyArk, a nonprofit foundation that digitally records historic sites and monuments -- dozens of them so far, from Mount Rushmore to Pompeii - - to create an enduring record.

"The scanners are set up in various places and the completed scans are knit together," said Terry Myers Sr., DJS survey specialist. "Eventually you have a finished 3-D image."

DJS donated its time and services to the project, which the company estimates would cost $50,000 to $75,000. CyArk also works to seek corporate and foundation grants and other kinds of financial assistance to help fund its projects.

Such high-def documentation could be used to repair or recreate a damaged structure and will eventually be posted online for anyone to take a virtual tour. …