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Laser scanner to capture El Paso in 3D - El Paso Inc.: Local News

Laser scanner to capture El Paso in 3D

Architecture school to move into Union Depot

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Posted: Sunday, May 12, 2013 6:00 pm

Robert González wants to create a 3D digital replica of Downtown El Paso, using lasers.

The director of Texas Tech’s fledgling architecture program in El Paso says the student project would be part of a new historic preservation program he is developing here. The project would create a permanent record, in 3D, of El Paso’s most historic and endangered buildings.

In June, the college’s 60 students will make Downtown their laboratory, González says.

The entire college is moving from its suburban location on Viscount Boulevard, where it shares space with El Paso Community College, to the historic Union Depot Passenger Station in Downtown, as El Paso Inc. reported last year.

City Council made the move official last week by approving the lease.

“It’s a no-brainer. Every architecture school wants to be in a downtown – especially in an environment that is changing rapidly and where building matters,” González says.

Besides filling Downtown’s new coffee shops and cafés, students would unleash their creativity on Downtown, González says.

Last week, architecture students presented proposals for the design of two of the city’s quality of life bond projects in Downtown – the children’s museum and a Hispanic cultural center.

Future student projects might find creative uses for neglected buildings, design plazas and parks or scan Downtown with lasers.

Egypt to the US

Elizabeth Louden, who is perhaps best known for creating a digital 3D model of the Statue of Liberty for the National Park Service with students, gave a demonstration of the scanning technology to a group of El Paso architects and college faculty last week.

Louden teaches at Texas Tech’s College of Architecture in Lubbock.

The university was one of the first, if not the first, to use the technology when Louden acquired her first 3D scanner in 1999, she says.

The technology was developed for industrial purposes, to help engineers find new routes for pipes through tangles of existing pipes. The scanners, which can cost as much as $150,000, are now also used by forensic investigators to document crime scenes, by geologists to monitor erosion and engineers to survey roads.

But Louden and her students have used the technology to create extremely accurate 3D models of historic buildings and archeological sites to aid in their preservation.

They have scanned everything from an ancient Egyptian temple to George Washington’s 1776 tent at Valley Forge, according to Louden. Once scanned, the structures can be turned into 3D digital models and animations.

González is interested in the scanning technology because, right now, there is very little documentation of Downtown El Paso’s historic buildings, he says.

“If you go to the Library of Congress’s collection of historic buildings across the state, we have maybe two, and they are on Fort Bliss,” González says. “It made us realize that, if they went away, and buildings seemed to be disappearing so quickly, there would be no record of them at all.”

Burning down

The night González first arrived in El Paso to lead the architecture school, a 90-year-old Downtown building burned down. Then a year later, in April 2012, one of the oldest continually used buildings in El Paso, which had once served as the law offices of famed gunslinger John Wesley Harden, burned down.

“I saw a city that was rusting away, so I wanted to make sure (historic preservation) was part of our architecture curriculum from day one,” González says.

A building designed by the Southwest’s most famous architect, Henry Trost, was recently torn down after being damaged by the 2012 fire. And a nearby building at 230 N. Mesa, also designed by Trost, is being redeveloped.

The college will offer a new certificate in historic preservation program in the fall, González says. It’s a step, he said, toward the creation of a full-fledged master’s degree program.

Students might work with non-profits to write tours or they could develop plans for how buildings might be preserved, he says.


Right now, the college of architecture in El Paso offers only one degree program, a bachelor’s degree in architecture, but it has quickly outgrown its current location in El Paso Community College’s Administrative Center.

González hopes to have as many as 100 or 120 students enrolled in the college two years from now.

The architecture program is a partnership between Texas Tech and El Paso Community College. Students complete their first two years of college at EPCC and final two years at the college of architecture.

At first, the college will share the Union Depot building with Sun Metro, which is moving to new facilities under construction on Montana near Global Reach, González says, but it will occupy Sun Metro’s space by the end of next year.

The depot, a red-brick building with a steeple that rises above the entertainment district in Downtown, was built in 1905 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was designed by Daniel Burnham, who also designed Washington, D.C.’s Union Station.

The college of architecture, González says, would be the first to be located in an active train station, to be so close to the U.S.-Mexico border and be in a building designed by architect Daniel Burnham.

Email El Paso Inc. reporter Robert Gray at or call (915) 534-4422 ext. 105.

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