High-tech race to map Ukraine’s damaged historic buildings

Many of Ukraine's historic monuments have been destroyed in the three months since Russia invaded, but cultural experts are working to conserve their memory using cutting-edge technology and 3D scans.

2 mins read

One of them is volunteer, French engineer Emmanuel Durand, a specialist in 3D data acquisition, who is assisting a bevy of architects, engineers, historical buidling experts and a museum director to record buildings in Kyiv, Lviv, Chernigiv and Kharkiv. Durand steps over a jumbled pile of beams and crunches over the rubble that was once Kharkiv’s 19th-century fire station. He plants his laser scanner, a sort of tripod with a pivoting head, in a stragetic corner of the severely damaged building. 

Emmanuel Durand, Karkhiv Photo de Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP

SOUNDBITE 1 – Emmanuel Durand, volunteer, French engineer (male, French, 37 sec): “The scanner takes 500,000 points per second, on this station alone, for example, we’ll have about 10 million points. Then we’ll change the stations, go all around the building and then all this will be put together on a computer, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle but in 3D. So on this building we will have about 1 billion measurement points, we will see the whole building and also the interior, so we will be able to make sections to see a picture of the interior and the exterior.”

SOUNDBITE 2 – Emmanuel Durand, volunteer, French engineer (male, French, 47 sec): “The work we do has several purposes. It allows us to fix in history the physical situation of the building, its surroundings and the destruction. These files will later be used for analysis, for example, in my case, the structural analysis of the buildings. To see to what extent they have moved, for safety. It will also be used for modelling, so it’s other people who do the 3D modelling, and it may be used later for museographic purposes.”

SOUNDBITE 3 – Kateryna Kuplytska, architect, member of the body documenting damaged heritage sites (female, Ukrainian, 32 sec): “There are 500 buildings [in Kharkiv] due to be listed as architectural heritage, most of them are located very densely in a central historical area, which has seen destruction and was shelled and bombed. Some were hit directly, some were damaged due to an explosion wave. So if we count them all in general, there will be about a hundred I think, maybe more.”

SOUNDBITE 4 – Kateryna Kuplytska, architect, member of the body documenting damaged heritage sites (female, Ukrainian, 41 sec): “It needs to be recorded in detail, accurately to start developing top priority urgent works for stabilising such objects, and for the development of further science-project. A documentary could be started already because this is a very expensive process, and the earlier it starts the better. And there is also the recording of destruction that is being done at the same time, which will lead to the criminal process.”

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May 26, 2022. Fire Station in Karkhiv build in 1887. Photo Profimedia

SOUNDBITE 5 – Tetyana Pylyptshuk, director of the Kharkiv literary museum (female, Ukrainian, 23 sec): “Culture is the basis of everything. If culture had developed well, people probably wouldn’t be dying and there wouldn’t be a war. Today, everyone realises this. Maybe they were not so attentive to our cultural heritage before… but when you lose it, it hurts.”


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