Team scans cathedral to create its ‘digital twin’

Conservationists with scanners claim that Peterborough Cathedral is now the most digitally recorded historic building in the world as they work to make a “digital twin” of it.

Workers abseiled from the 12th-century building with handheld scanners on Monday to record its detailed carvings.

The five team members are also using a drone and have photographically mapped the Norman structure with more than 30,000 images.

The project aims to identify where repairs are needed and cathedral staff hope that the data can be used as a learning resource for schoolchildren unable to visit amid the pandemic.

Peterborough Cathedral digitally scanned
Peterborough Cathedral digitally scanned

Graham Sykes, technical director of Architectural Heritage & Scanning, said: “We think that Peterborough Cathedral may well be the most digitally recorded historic building ever at this point, with 16 billion data points and over 30,000 images.

“Similar work has been carried out at Notre Dame Cathedral and at Westminster Abbey but this is not quite so in-depth as we have used a wider range of scanners and methods to capture different levels of detail.

“We see the project as a unique case study or test piece to assess what can be achieved.

“We’ve loved every minute of it and it has been a privilege to work on such a magnificent building.”

Peterborough Cathedral digitally scanned
Peterborough Cathedral digitally scanned

He said that by using multiple technologies they have been able to create a “digital twin” of the cathedral.

“It really creates a perfect snapshot of the building as it is now, so if it fell down tomorrow it pretty much could be rebuilt with the data we’ve got to a high degree of accuracy,” he said.

Explaining why Peterborough Cathedral was selected for the project, he said: “It’s quite a pure cathedral from an architectural point of view, in terms of its period, and the size is a real Goldilocks size – it’s big but it’s not too big.”

Peterborough Cathedral digitally scanned
Peterborough Cathedral digitally scanned

Dave Cramp, commercial director for Peterborough Cathedral, said: “We are already at the early stages of working on ideas for how we can use these very lifelike images and fly-through videos in materials for schools, enabling our education team to visit classrooms and inspire students with a fascination for the life and history of this ancient building.

“The potential for virtual tours, increased accessibility and bespoke objects for sale in our shop is also very exciting.”

The scans can also generate 3D printing and the cathedral is developing a concept for a limited edition Peterborough Cathedral chess set, with pieces shaped as statues from the cathedral.

The team expects to complete the scanning by the end of the summer.