IHBC Yearbook 2024

42 YEARBOOK 2024 HISTORIC DIGITAL SURVEY CONSERVATION IN THE AGE OF THE FOURTH (DIGITAL) INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION ALAN FORSTER and FRÉDÉRIC BOSCHÉ IT IS well understood that digital technologies and applications are moving at considerable pace in society; such is the rise of ‘digital’ that it is accepted that we have entered the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0. The four revolutions are characterised as steam (18th century), factory production (late 19th century), computerisation (last third of the 20th century) and now cyber-physical. Today, the third and fourth phases are considered transformational and pervade almost all sectors. Albeit slower than other sectors like manufacturing, the construction sector has also embraced innovation in attempts to unlock productivity and efficiency gains. The heritage sector, as a subset of the construction industry, could be argued to be even slower adopters of these technologies for a multitude of reasons; for example, conservation practices are often small and lacking resources both in terms of people and investment. This reduced diffusion and uptake of technologies arguably hinders productivity and efficiency gains in conservation projects which are all too often underfunded, especially in an age of financial austerity. Unlocking the potential that digital applications offer may result in tight project funds being better utilised and reallocated towards essential maintenance and fabric repair as opposed to spending it on laborious time-consuming activities which drain resources. Traditional conservation practice was synonymous with analogue processes. These were often characterised as having limited interoperability (information sharing) and lacked the ability to automatically action other tasks that flowed from them. Hand-recorded survey drawings formed the basis of the historic documentation process and the development of subsequent project drawings. Conditions surveys, bills of quantities and an array of project documents relied upon these drawings to give contextualised accurate meaning to their specific outputs. Subsequent routine operations beyond major works were also analogue in nature and often limited in their use beyond the investigation of isolated building performance issues. For example, the use of glass or plastic calibrated ‘tell-tales’ for deriving data for the monitoring of progressive movement in buildings were manually measured, logged and interpreted. Importantly, the information that was collected was often disparate in nature with limited connectivity to other forms of data-supporting analysis in other areas of building performance. Practically, the organisation of the physical documents also created issues, insomuch as these documents were classically held in manila folders in filing cabinets, or in drawing cabinets. Over time, these physical storage systems arguably increased the probability of loss of information associated with human error. The difficulties in being able to retrieve project documents effectively are compounded by the updating and replacement of information in a haphazard and incomplete manner. Current practice for larger companies and projects may utilise digital applications that are characteristic of the era of the third industrial revolution. Today, on-site survey drawings are often replaced by digital reality capture acquisition (laser scanning and photogrammetry) and hand drawings such as elevations, sections and details are mainly created with CAD. These digital innovations New survey technologies have enabled a rapid increase in data acquisition: extracting value from so much digital data will increasingly rely on AI for its assessment and processing. (Photo: Jonathan Taylor)