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Scanning and the Coordinated Surface
Final Thesis Presentation, May 22, 2015

Spring 2015, Thesis
Michael Meredith, Lucia Allais

3D scanning can be loosely defined as the XYZ coordinates of a physical surface collected at an instant in time, and I am arguing that it has the generative potential that previous forms of documentary representation, like axonometry or photography, have had for Architecture in the past. 

Buildings are increasingly being seen, documented, and visualized by scanners more than they are by people, and yet Architecture has been resistant to incorporate scanning into aesthetic discourse, reserving it for the professional and technical spheres of preservation, infrastructural surveys, and BIM. This seems like an oversight because scanning alludes to almost every existing mode of architectural representation—projective geometry, perspective, photography, etc.—and collapses them into a single paradigm. I’m proposing that there is a way to understand scanning as something more than a representational device—that the act of scanning in addition to its post-processing can be thought of as a form of fabrication. 

In this sense the scanner is the true “site” of my thesis, and I have developed tools and ways of working that try to imagine the different realms in which scanning could affect design or the ways in which I can have some kind of agency over the scanner’s point data. 

What’s particular about points is that they carry large and varied sets of information. Every point in a scan contains a time stamp, an RGB value, and XYZ coordinates. Furthermore, scanners collect points in bundles called frustums, and when triangulated into a mesh, they are assigned vectors normal to their surface. Each tool I have developed takes on a particular quality of scanning—time, RGB data, stitching mechanisms, view frustums—and tries to posit a means of intervention. 

For this iteration of the project, I have applied my tools to one of Princeton’s graduate apartments in the Butler complex. Originally built as temporary emergency housing for married veterans after World War II, the apartments are soon to be demolished and so they offer a kind of preservational urge. However, I would argue that all buildings reenact the ones that came before them, and that these same techniques can be applied to a wide range of existing physical stuff that includes but is not limited to found objects, scale models, and raw materials.