3D Survey and Visualisation at SIAD

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Hello, I am Adrian and I run the 3D Survey & Visualisation department for SIAD, a construction, design, and survey company based in Oxford, UK. We work with many building design professionals, but most notably with architects, providing floorplans, elevations, and topographical drawings of existing buildings to enable them to showcase their proposed modifications to the client. These drawings are traditionally in 2D; however, we are able to produce them in 3D offering a more accurate and intuitive representation. Utilising 3D has numerous benefits, one significantly being the ease of producing a visual representation of the building. Building design professionals often look to have photorealistic images or videos of their design. 3D visualisation takes this a step further by giving them the experience of a ‘3D virtual world’, where they can control their surroundings—lighting, weather, and more!

After a sabbatical working as a yachtsman, I revisited some old passions: photography and graphic design and became enthralled with 3D technology. Reading the SketchUp for Dummies 8 cover to cover I developed a growing interest in Match Photo and the concept of bringing the real built environment into a 3D virtual world. However, Match Photos rely on buildings having 90-degree corners and as you attempt more and more complex, interesting buildings, the resulting model ends up full of errors. You can then resolve this by pairing two photographs that have parallax and triangulating features in them, a technique known as photogrammetry. To amend manually, this can be tedious and prone to error. With the emergence of automated software, initially in the form of Autodesk’s Photofly (aka 123D Catch, aka ReCap Photo) this process became more efficient.

My focus then shifted more into 3D laser scanning when I joined SIAD Limited in 2015. During this time, I have developed my 3D understanding further with the opportunity to work on a variety of 3D-related projects. Today, this area of the business is steadily growing and as part of a 3D team, we all work closely together to develop the 3D capability we can offer to our clients.

Digitization of Cultural Heritage

Located in Oxford, we are extremely fortunate to be surrounded by a wealth of cultural heritage, giving us the opportunity to survey beautiful historical buildings. These buildings represent our connection to local history and play an important role in reminding us to not only respect our historical past, but also to look to these structures and incorporate them into our view of the present and the future. Tangible items like the buildings we measure are omnipresent, but their intangible narrative is ephemeral and can be lost with an individual’s memory, or missing texts. The 3D virtual world is somewhere the tangible and intangible can co-exist together and, via the internet, be even more accessible than their real-world counterparts. SIAD’s focus is to transform the ‘tangible’ into the ‘virtual’. Watch this space for more to come!

3D at SIAD

SIAD embraces three game-changing technologies: 3D laser scanning, 3D BIM models and Virtual Reality. Our success has been dependent on solid design decisions, founded on comprehensive surveys and unambiguous communication, thereby providing designers and clients with an unprecedented understanding of a building before breaking ground.

As a construction company, SIAD understands the importance of accuracy as a crucial element of the design and build function. For SIAD, there has been a natural progression into 3D laser scanning as we can collect 1,000,000 points per second and scan points accurate to +/- 3mm. Capturing precise survey data is now used at different stages throughout the duration of our projects.

Tools and Equipment

For the production of 3D laser scanning, we use a device the size of a large camera, such as the Leica BLK360. 3D Laser Scanning is a non-contact, highly accurate technology that digitally captures the shape of physical objects through the use of laser beams. Using a tripod mounted system similar to a traditional survey device, laser scanners send out up to a million laser beams a second, obtaining a full 360° scan. Laser Scanning allows buildings and assets to be captured in 3D quickly and efficiently, with the 3D laser scanner creating a “point cloud” of data from the information captured.

Utilising the ‘point cloud’ data collected from the 3D laser scanner, we can produce accurate 2D architectural designs or 3D BIM models, using AutoCAD or Building Information Modelling (BIM) software such as Autodesk Revit.

Using BIM data, we can take an existing 3D model into a VR environment. Through the use of a head-mounted display the user can ‘step inside’ the model and get a fully immersive VR experience, giving a full sense of scale, depth, and spatial awareness that simply can’t be matched by a rendering, walk-through or physical scale model.


Surveying existing buildings can create challenges when working with 3D technology as cultural heritage sites are often decorative and, having aged over a long period of time, they also succumb to levels of decay, causing imperfections. Whilst these intricacies and imperfections do, of course, add to their beauty, this can cause a few headaches when creating a 3D visual representation.

As 3D software technology improves and our experience grows with each site we survey, it becomes easier for us to work with existing and new sites by creating a good workflow with accuracy and planning.

Working with unique historical buildings can be a challenge for the reasons already discussed, but as these individual projects progress, we can truly learn about these structures, inside and out, recreating once forgotten rooms with all their history. We are then rewarded with the satisfaction of seeing the real world come alive in 3D.

Sketchfab’s Role

Sketchfab has become an important way to enable the 3D team to display our projects to clients. Due to the variety of our work, we can create collections of the individual projects or technologies which can then be shared quickly with our audience. The 3D services we provide work hand-in-hand with Sketchfab, allowing the audience to see the buildings or sites at their full potential.

The Future of 3D in Cultural Heritage

I believe the development of 3D surveying and visualisation will become an important part of the documentation of heritage sites and buildings. Permanent ‘point-in-time’ archive recording allows us to create a virtual representation for presentation, research, protection, and renovation. The procession of 3D technologies permits everyone to view architecture and historical sites with the click of a button from all angles, allowing them to discover and explore online.

When working with the restoration of historic buildings like Oxford Castle, because the use of 3D surveying minimises errors, the client is able to understand the existing structure in an exact way. Digitization provides an accurate record of the building’s condition at a specific time in history and can, therefore, become a valuable part of the building archive.

A Favorite Model

Sketchfab has a variety of interesting projects making it difficult to pick one or two favourites; however, this model caught my eye as it shows the potential of 3D laser scanning.


About the author

Adrian Dawson

Head of the 3D Survey & Visualisation department at SIAD

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