Pavilion In 3D: Scan To Aid Preservation Efforts

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Dr. Lori Walters of the University of Central Florida
sets up the 3D scanner to create a data map of
the New York State Pavilion. Photo by Joe Marvilli

BY JOE MARVILLI
Staff Writer

The New York State Pavilion is getting a virtual lease on life, thanks to a three-dimensional scan.

The University of Central Florida and heritage preservation nonprofit CyArk worked together to scan the New York State Pavilion complex, with the goal of using that data to build a virtual 3D model of the structure as it currently stands. The nearly week-long effort went over every inch of the site, from the top of the Observation Towers to the inside of the Tent of Tomorrow.

Getting Started

Members of the faculty at UCF decided to do a scan of the Pavilion as part of their involvement with ChronoLeap, a virtual reality game meant to increase science, technology, engineering and mathematics education. According to the ChronoLeap website, the 1964/65 New York World’s Fair made for an ideal environment to convey a wide assortment of STEM content.

“We had built a lot of these models based on old photographs and everything, and dropped them into the game engine so these kids could wander and play. We had made the New York State Pavilion,” Dr. Lori Walters, digital heritage lead at UCF, said.

In addition to scanning the Pavilion, the University of Central Florida and CyArk decided to attempt a scan of the Unisphere. However, since the landmark is mostly open space, they are unsure how the results will turn out.

In addition to scanning the Pavilion, the University of Central Florida and CyArk decided to attempt a scan of the Unisphere. However, since the landmark is mostly open space, they are unsure how the results will turn out.

Last year, the group acquired a FARO 3D laser scanner, with which they could completely scan an object to make a digital model. They decided that the Pavilion would be a great project to pursue, particularly because of the 50th anniversary of the World’s Fair and the debate over what to do with the Pavilion.

Walters said she has a personal interest in the Pavilion as well, since she would often pass by the structure when she went to visit her aunt as a child.

“I wasn’t around for the Fair. I spent most of my life in Florida but was born out in Long Island. My aunt lives in Astoria. I remember distinctly when we would come in on the LIE,” she said. “I always remembered when I saw the beautiful colored panels of the Tent of Tomorrow that we were getting close.”

In order to take on such a massive project, UCF received assistance from CyArk, a nonprofit that collects 3D data from cultural heritage and archeological sites from all over the world. It stores the information in perpetuity and shares portions of it with the public for free at archive.cyark.org.

To accomplish this data-collecting mission, CyArk partners with colleges like UCF, which they call their technology centers. CyArk provides technical and fundraising support for these centers, giving them the resources they need to succeed in their project.

“[UCF] were coming out to do this project with very limited funding. Some of their time was being volunteered by the staff. With the anniversary of the fair, CyArk was very interested in that,” Justin Barton, CyArk’s Chief Technology Advocate, said. “It became clear we needed to help support them with some fundraising efforts, so we actually established a Kickstarter campaign. We raised $15,000 to help fund their travel costs and staff time for all that data processing that’ll happen in the lab.”

Barton also brought over some additional scanners and equipment to quicken the process. He has nine years of experience in scanning structures. CyArk itself has data sets from more than 130 cultural heritage sites, from all seven continents. The Sydney Opera House, Mayan Pyramids, African rock art panels and Shackleton’s Hut in Antarctica have all been scanned in the past.

How It Works

The 3D scanner works by using a tiny laser that sends out a signal, which hits the building, bounces back and creates a point. Over time, it creates a series of data points that cover the structure and makes an image out of the scan that has been completed. Then, the group does multiple scans, based on how large the complex is. Once the scanning process itself is complete, the team goes back and stitches those multiple scans together, with the help of software.

“Once that occurs, you’ve essentially created a three-dimensional point cloud model of the Pavilion. You could create a flythrough where people can walk in and take a look around, see what it looks like,” Walters said. “You can also put it in another software where you can make a real, three-dimensional model. You could put it into a game engine if you want.”

The data processing will take weeks to complete, far longer than the scan itself, which was done in less than a week. Multiple scanners helped the process move along quickly and the weather was decent for the most part. The scanner can work in sunshine or overcast, but not in rain, snow or heavy fog.

CyArk and UCF decided that since they were in the area, they would try to scan the Unisphere as well, as a test of their scanning technology. Unlike the Pavilion and other structures that were scanned, the Unisphere is mostly hollow, with many instances of open space. The team is curious to see if the data is usable or if it winds up being a bunch of noise.

Why Scan?

Both Walters and Barton said that they hope the data from the Pavilion scan could be used to provide a historical record of the Pavilion’s current state. If the structure is restored or renovated, the data will display how it looked before any changes were made. If it is torn down, then the scan will act as a historical record. Walters said that the Pavilion is an important part of 20th century history.

“It’s got an affiliation with the 1964-65 World’s Fair, which is a major historical event of the 20th century. Its architect is Philip Johnson, one of the most noted American architects of the 20th century. This has a lot of historical significance to it,” she said. “Plus, it tells the story of the mid-1960s. You look at it and it screams ‘Space Age.’ The Space Age always has a particular fascination for me.”

Barton added that the data could ultimately be used by the Parks Dept. to restore the structure or by activist groups like People for the Pavilion. By placing the scan on its website, CyArk can also increase awareness about the Pavilion issue, reaching a wider audience than just New York City.

“If we can put it online, we can share that story of what this structure represents, that fantastic vision of the future from the Space Age,” he said. “It can hopefully create that advocacy that’s needed to do that massive fundraising, to aid its restoration in the long-term.”

Pavilion Costs

When it comes to the Pavilion’s future, several different options have come up, all with varying price tags.
Two of the Parks Dept. plans, stabilization and restoration, would demolish the Tent of Tomorrow, but fix up the observation towers. The destruction of the Tent would cost $10,613,075. Stabilization would not allow for public access, while restoration would.

The Parks Dept.’s stabilization plan would restore or replace cable hangers and corroded bolts, replace the stairs and add a roof to each observation tower. This strategy would cost $11,434,803.

The restoration plan would bring the towers back to how they were in 1964. This project would cost $20,538,130. Stabilizing both the observation towers and the Tent of Tomorrow would cost $43,013,753. Restoring access for the two structures would have a $52,117,080 cost.

The proposal to demolish the entire pavilion would cost $14,264,661. Borough President Melinda Katz has set that amount as the first $14 million that needs to be raised to save the structure.

Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, jmarvilli@queenstribune.com, or @JoeMarvilli.