Laser scanning streamlines building design at the University of Texas and other college campuses.

Ranked among the top 100 “Best Value” colleges in the United States by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine, the University of Texas at Dallas has grown about 70 percent in the last decade. Under the leadership of President David E. Daniel, UT Dallas has opened an $85 million Natural Science and Engineering Research Laboratory and embarked on an ambitious plan to overhaul the look and feel of the entire campus--including a $27.7 million renovation of a 40-year-old complex known as Founders Hall. One of the university’s oldest buildings, the Founders Hall complex includes two chemistry buildings and another building with administrative offices, a laboratory and classrooms. The goal of the renovation was to improve energy efficiency and update classrooms, laboratories and meeting rooms in all three structures while adding modern amenities.

An MEP consultant used the 3D model to design new utility line in crowded basement corridor.

A key part of the efficiency improvements was to upgrade the complex’s existing 35,000-square-foot HVAC piping and equipment located in the basement of the original Founders Hall Building C. With a tight timeline for construction looming, the architect, Dallas-based F&S Partners, and the contractor, Turner Construction, needed as-built drawings of the HVAC room quickly to facilitate design and construction. Unfortunately, the few historical records available were inaccurate and out-of-date.

Ordinarily, Turner would have called on junior architects or engineers to perform an onsite inspection, collecting data with an electronic tape measure. However, the sheer density of the utility network made this an extremely challenging endeavor. Conducting the work through traditional means would have required a minimum of two months and tens of thousands of dollars to gather approximate pipe locations and create a CAD drawing. 

This point cloud captured over 107,500 seats and 98 rows of the University of Michigan’s Big House football stadium, which allowed designers to create detailed plan and section drawings for proposed renovations.

Instead, Turner called on Midwestern Consulting, an engineering and surveying consulting firm, to create 3D models of the HVAC room using high-definition laser scanning technology. Using a Leica HDS6000 from Leica Geosystems, Midwestern surveyors collected nearly 5.5 billion points of information from 130 distinct setups in the 35,000-square-foot room over the course of a week. Another three weeks were spent post processing the data and color coding the resulting 3D model with help from Ceeko Inc., a data capture, processing and visualization firm. “With the 3D model, the architect and contractor were able to digitally compare the HVAC renovations with existing conditions and avoid potential clashes,” says Brandon Walker, senior project manager with Midwestern Consulting.

The point cloud was integrated with NavisWorks to create an existing conditions overlay and then combined with the 3D model of the proposed utility line to perform clash detection.

Ultimately, Walker estimates that laser scanning saved at least three major conflicts on the project at an estimated $15,000 per conflict and also shortened the project schedule by three weeks. As a result, the Founders Hall renovation project is on schedule for completion in the fall of 2010.

The University of Texas at Dallas project is not the first time Midwestern Consulting has used laser scanning to help architects, engineers and contractors complete a new or renovated project at a college or university. Other projects have included the University of Michigan Law Quad, Stockwell Hall dormitory and the football stadium known as The Big House. For the football stadium, Midwestern surveyors provided scan data, aisle/row/seat data and structural layout for the existing facility so that the university could make improvements such as widening each seat by 2 inches, which reduced the stadium capacity by 10,000; building new luxury skyboxes on the east and west sides; and creating wider concourses.

This past year, Oakland Community College in Farmington Hills, Mich., called on local engineers and architects to investigate cracks appearing on two 40-foot by 120-foot exterior brick façade walls of a building constructed in the late 1960s. Midwestern Consulting laser scanned the walls, created detailed color images and applied color maps to reveal the deviations of the wall from the plumb line. The images clearly showed that the walls were bubbling in several areas. To the client’s surprise, the scan revealed a “cavity,” or inverted bubble along the top edge of the walls that was not known previously. “The ability to capture an entire area with the scanner allows architects/clients the distinct advantage of amending their design without having to go back into the field to acquire more hand measurements,” Walker says.

Simply moving a wall from 16-feet to 20-feet would have required the architect and potentially the MEP contractor to go back on site to verify that the path was clear of conflicts. “Now, the architect can pull up the scan data in a free internet explorer viewer, Leica Truview, or if they have the AutoCAD plug-in, Leica Cloudworx, and overlay their design on the point cloud to verify the proposed solution,” Walker explains. 

Surveyors used high definition laser scanners to create highly accurate base drawings of the Eastern Michigan University’s historic Pease Auditorium, built in 1914. The base model helped architects identify and map existing cracks in terra cotta tile façades.

Midwestern also works with architects to create scalable orthophotos (point cloud .tif images) that can be used with 2D building elevation drawings.

“High definition laser scanning brings added value to clients and the entire project team,” Walker concludes. “It’s digital, accurate, measurable and fits perfectly in the emerging building information modeling environment.”

For more information about Midwestern Consulting, visit More details about Leica scanning equipment can be found at