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Students use laser technology to unlock Colorado's past

Three dimensional scanners help document historic cultural landscapes

5/11/2011
Unlocking Colorado's past
 

DENVER - In an effort to record and analyze historic, cultural landscapes, the University of Colorado Denver’s Center of Preservation Research, part of the College of Architecture and Planning (CAP),  is using digital scanning technology to help piece together  the vast tapestry of Colorado history that remains undocumented.

Graduate students in the new Master’s of Science in Historic Preservation program, one of only a handful of such programs nationwide, are using a laser scanner to create `virtual tours’ of historic places, making visual records of old ranches and conducting archeological research on Anasazi ruins in the Four Corners area. The technology, created by CyArk Technologies founder Ben Kacyra of Oakland, CA, can also be used in oil and gas exploration along with crime scene investigation.

Colorado spends millions a year on historic preservation,” said Ekaterini Vlahos, associate professor of architecture and director of Center of Preservation Research. “We have an incredibly rich heritage with approximately seven percent of our State’s cultural resources documented. There are historic ranches, old mines, Native American sites and archeological artifacts to name a few that have yet to be surveyed and recorded.”

The scanner uses a series of lasers to create a three dimensional image of a structure which can then be overlaid with photographs to help reconstruct what has been lost to the ravages of time. Students have worked on the Fort Laramie National Historic Site in Wyoming, the Heart Mountain internment camp which held Japanese-Americans during World War II and they will soon travel to the San Luis Valley to help document a historic ranch there.

Students and faculty work closely with organizations like CyArk as well as the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Colorado Historical Society in their research.

CAP created the 18-month, 45-credit historic preservation program last year because of increased interest from students and more demand for the profession in the private sector.

Vlahos, a Colorado native with ties to ranching, said students are looking at preservation through a different lens, where people and land intersect. When they go to historic ranch sites, they try to visually recreate corrals, barns, stalls and homes using the scanner, photos, maps and documents.

“A lot of our rural landscapes are disappearing,” she said. “The American Farmland Trust has reported that America has been losing more than an acre of farm and ranch land every minute to development.”

Vlahos hopes to get funding in partnership with CyArk to scan three former internment camps throughout the region. As part of a class, her students are also working with the National Trust for Historic Preservation in a $2.4 million effort to rehabilitate and document Denver’s old Emerson School.

“We study the past, understand the pressure of the present and inform the future,” Vlahos said. “Hopefully this historical research will provide us a basis for sustainable development in the years to come.”

The College of Architecture and Planning is among the largest colleges of architecture and related design and planning disciplines in the U.S. Located on the University of Colorado Denver’s downtown campus and the University of Colorado-Boulder, CAP brings together faculty, students and practitioners who share common pursuits in communities of interest including: emerging practices in design, sustainable urbanism, the creation of healthy environments and the preservation of cultural heritage. CAP is one of 13 schools and colleges at CU Denver which offers more than 128 degrees. For additional news and information, please visit the UC Denver newsroom.

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 Contact: David Kelly, 303-315-6374, david.kelly@ucdenver.edu