Engaged Learning

Architecture Students Preserving Mission Santa Cruz

by Ed Carpenter, Office of Marketing Communications

USF architecture students have teamed with California parks and a cutting-edge preservation group to digitally record, preserve, and, hopefully, restore some of the state’s oldest buildings — California Missions.


“Every part of this is amazing,” said Hana Böttger, assistant professor of architecture and community design, who turned the partnership into a class for undergraduates — providing them with a rare opportunity to work with state-of-the-art laser-scanning technology and to construct computerized 3D architectural models. “These might be the only undergraduate students in the U.S. who are using a 3D scanner and working with point clouds.”

The scanner was purchased from CyArk, an Oakland-based nonprofit whose mission is to scan and digitally preserve heritage sites around the world. Like an infinitely tentacled cephalopod, the scanner sends out points of light in all directions that bounce back and are captured in a point cloud — essentially a database of light reflections that measure the location and distance of objects.

Building a 3D library

Böttger’s class scanned the interior and exterior of Mission Santa Cruz earlier this spring, recording the 1791 building in minute detail, and then spent the semester building a digital 3D model. 

The computer model can be manipulated and rotated, using a mouse. It can even be archived online as part of a 3D library, as CyArk does with sites like Mt. Rushmore and Ancient Thebes in Egypt. Preservationists use such models to record important pieces of cultural heritage and determine ways to preserve or conserve them. Structural engineers use models and drawings to study the condition of California Mission walls and roofs, looking for structural deficiencies. Potentially, USF’s Santa Cruz model could offer insights on how to reinforce the building to withstand earthquakes without damaging it, and Böttger wants to expand USF’s work to include other missions. 

“It’s really good in terms of preservation,” said Dominic Lizama ’16, one of the students who worked on the project. Lizama, whose family is from Guam, hopes to use what he’s learned in the class to return home and work to preserve some of the island’s culturally historic sites.

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