The changing role of…architectural technologists

Daniel Pickett, leader of Ridge and Partners’ geospatial services team, explains how architectural technologists have created a whole new discipline within building surveying.

Describe the progress of tech in your role

It’s a long time since measured building surveying was done with pencil, paper and tape measures. Then laser tapes replaced tape measures. Now we have laser scanners becoming faster and more efficient, capable of a measuring rate of up to 2 million points per second providing greater accuracy at the same time as being ever smaller and more portable.

The tech alongside mobile mapping makes the surveyor’s job quicker and less intrusive. We can survey a school with classes in progress or a shopping centre while it’s trading. We’ve surveyed a sports hall with a badminton game in progress.

Is there tech that you rely on daily?

Laser scanning is now 75% of our workflow and the terrestrial tripod-mounted laser scanner is the workhorse. This can be supplemented with mobile mapping laser scanners utilising SLAM (Simultaneous Location and Mapping) and photogrammetry by drones, which can assemble a 3D textured mesh model from overlapping photographs.

The data produced by these scans is relied on by other disciplines – architects, structural engineers, mechanical and electrical engineers – to do their jobs effectively by using reliable, accurate as-built data at the start of a project.

The data is becoming more user-friendly all the time. We can provide a full 3D BIM-ready model to a design team and meet the Government’s mandate for public sector, centrally procured construction projects by adopting a BIM approach.

  • Video shows preparations for transforming a redundant Debenhams department store into a facility for the University of Gloucestershire 

How is tech shaping your work?

The speed and accuracy of laser scan surveys opens up new uses and allows clients to immerse themselves within the real-world environment by using 360 degree, HD colour viewing files generated from the laser scan survey.

Car manufacturers are already using the technology to organise equipment and co-ordinate space planning exercises with their overseas factories by using scan data as the tool.

Pressure is growing to repurpose redundant buildings, rather than redevelop them. Technology that was already helping with the conservation of heritage buildings takes on a new lease of life, helping us to quickly understand the space, detail, structure and options for new uses.

Residential landowners daunted by the requirements of the Building Safety Act can use this technology to quickly and accurately survey high rise housing blocks for fire safety risks. The technology will be important for creating building safety plans and building safety cases when they become compulsory.

Ridge University Of Gloucester

What benefits of tech risk being overlooked?

We’re just discovering the potential in on-site verification. These scans can be used during construction to ensure works are proceeding according to the plans with the point cloud data being cross-referenced against the central 3D model, reducing risk and avoiding costly mistakes.

This tech will become more important as we modernise and refurbish existing buildings. We can use it as the basis for creating digital twins to support efficient management and operations.

Have your expectations about the future benefits of tech changed?

I trained as an architectural technologist, so you would expect me to be optimistic about the potential of technology.

Where we’ve moved on is that it’s ceased to be architects alone that we serve and there’s an expanding list of disciplines and clients requiring accurate 2D or 3D information from laser scan surveys that can benefit many.

Ridge University Of Gloucester2

Is there a problem you wish tech could solve?

We are seeing advancements in mobile mapping technology. A development in this area that brings the accuracy and quality of data that some terrestrial laser scanners already offer would be a great move.

While companies have attempted to create software that can automatically produce 2D/3D outputs direct from point cloud data there is still the need for human intervention and interpretation to produce the required outputs. Software or a scanner that can directly produce these outputs from a scan alone would be game-changing.

How does your organisation approach innovation?

A couple of forums are active in sharing knowledge and ideas around the firm. Tech-X is a technical excellence forum looking at everything from current best practice to future technologies. Our Innovation Forum is a bit broader, looking at efficient ways of working and new workstreams. There’s inevitable overlap and the two work together.

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