Architectural Historian Advocates for More Building Documentation Following Notre Dame

Expert Pitch

Following the fire in Paris, more attention is focusing on the new technologies that will help people rebuild damaged or lost buildings. Sarah Fayen Scarlett, assistant professor of history at Michigan Technological University, says that an uncommon loss like Notre Dame reflects a universal need for documenting historical buildings.

“Documenting buildings is possible like never before,” said Scarlett, explaining that LiDAR imaging of Notre Dame completed in the last decade by international teams of researchers will help with rebuilding the iconic structure. “With all the calls to rebuild, this kind of digital documentation of the original will be vital and the importance of training heritage professionals in up-to-date documentation techniques in order to potentially rebuild lost structures and sites is key.”

For example, the U.S. National Park Service recently made a Story Map to highlight projects closer to home that are benefitting from similar documentation after disastrous damage.

Scarlett is one of the professors in the Industrial Heritage and Archaeology program at Michigan Tech where the next generation of students learn to steward the past using modern tools in documentation and cultural interpretation. Scarlett also sees power in tapping communities to help document and delve into historical landscapes; she is a co-lead on the Keweenaw Time Traveler, a crowdsourced deep map that explores local history. A social historian by background, she teaches and researches at the shifting interfaces of place-based material objects, culture, building design and art.