HISP Students Cast New Light on a Fundamental Skill

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Students employ LiDAR technology to offer new insights in historic restoration in Virginia

Fairfax County’s Ash Grove Plantation has seen its fair share of history. Built by the county’s namesake, Brian Fairfax, in 1790, the Plantation was at different times a family home, a boarding school for young women and a refuge in the American Civil War. Yet, as with most historic homes, Ash Grove Plantation is in a constant battle with time and the elements; the Plantation is one of over 300 properties under the care of Fairfax County Park Authority and keeping current condition records is a constant challenge. Now, a partnership between the county and UMD’s Historic Preservation Program is enlisting the help of students—and an innovative technology—to develop the tools the county needs to preserve and protect the Plantation for years to come.

The Ash Grove Plantation project is the focus of this semester’s Measured Drawings Course, HISP 679, which offers the opportunity for faculty to combine fundamental documentation skills with field experience; other projects this semester and during previous classes have included Pennsylvania’s Indian Steps Museum, Montpelier Mansion and Bostwick House. However, this is the first year students have also tried their hand at Light Detection and Ranging, or LiDAR, a new technology that experts consider a “revolution in archaeological exploration and understanding.” LiDAR is a remote sensing technology that measures distance by illuminating a target with a laser and analyzing the reflected light. It is widely used in geology, agriculture and law enforcement. Over the past several years, it has also become a popular, yet somewhat cost-prohibitive, tool in historic preservation efforts. The University of Maryland is one of a handful of universities to have a LiDAR machine available to students and faculty, thanks to efforts last year by architecture graduate student Luke Petrocelli, who campaigned for LiDAR to use in archaeological efforts in Stabiae, Italy. Since its purchase, the machine has enhanced the work of the archaeology program on the Eastern Shore, helped architecture students in their understanding of spatial concepts and is now helping with community outreach efforts in historic preservation. LiDAR scans can create renderings with minute detail and can see things literally invisible to the naked eye, like the inside of a chimney or wall. With the price of LiDAR technology coming down every year, learning it in practice is a critical step in preparing students for the profession, and allows them to see the benefits of both traditional and high-tech methods of documentation.

“This is a great opportunity for students to learn in both a traditional form—hand-drawn measurements—and through 21st-century technology,” said Don Linebaugh “It not only enhances their efforts, it gives them the opportunity to compare and contrast.”

“We find that most historic preservation graduates, whether they went to graduate school or not, don’t have this type of experience when they enter the profession,” said Karen Linquist, Historic Preservation Program Coordinator, Cultural Resource Management and Protection Section of the Fairfax County Park Authority. “Getting out in the field and learning these techniques will be a huge asset post-graduation.”

Students have spent the semester measuring the plantation’s kitchen, a 20 x 15 foot space separate from the main house that dates back to the early nineteenth century. The measurements will be used to create a set of renderings for the county to create a condition report. Enhancing the student’s efforts is a building assessment being performed by another HISP student, Tyler Smith, as part of Dennis Pogue’s Building Conservation Course. Together, they will help the county paint a picture of any changes to structure and places that require repair.

Working with UMD has been such a gift,” said Linquist. “Not only did we have the benefit of two amazing instructors, Don Linebaugh and Dennis Pogue, plus these amazing students, what they did for us was a huge savings. We hope this will be an on-going partnership.”

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Posted on May 8, 2015 by Maggie Haslam