Architecture installation at the MAK

Empathy in Point Clouds — Mt. Pleasant Industrial Boarding School

Dawn Gilpin, A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning & Robert Adams, A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning & Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design

EIPC Team Members and Research Assistants: Qilmeg Doudactz (Arch); Mardy Hillengas (Arch); Kammer Offenhauser (SEAS); William Johnson, SCIT Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture + Lifeways; Marcella Hadden, SCIT Tribal Historic Preservation Officer; Christian Nakarado, MIIBS architect

This proposal seeks funding for Empathy in Point Clouds [EIPC] to conduct preliminary work at Mt. Pleasant Industrial Boarding School [MIIBS], Mt. Pleasant, Michigan this summer to ensure the highest quality representations of this important site when the comprehensive scan of the campus is conducted in spring 2024.

The scope of the broader project seeks to support, enliven, and define a design strategy for interpretive digital content that deepens public understanding of the history of the Mount Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School. The objective is to raise public awareness of the MIIBS history of intergenerational trauma and reposition it as a 21st-century site for Indigenous education, practice, and ritual.

During its operation from 1893-1934, over 12,000 Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and indoctrinated into a white, patriarchal system of education that was intentionally designed to eradicate Indigenous knowledge, language, and traditional ways of life. Over this time, many students were tortured, and 227 Indigenous children died, were murdered, and disappeared.

In collaboration with and support of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe [SCIT], EIPC will produce a range of visual assets to be utilized in support of multiple initiatives to raise awareness of the history and potential for reuse of this site as we work with Indigenous storytellers, architects, and other institutions to develop plans for repositioning, including a comprehensive 3D digital model of the MIIBS campus. The resulting data will be made available to the tribal council and the team will support the sharing and distribution of formats to shareholders at the direction of the Tribal Council.

The Mt. Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School represents a time in the history of great trauma for the Anishinaabe but also of great promise in ensuring the facts of history are shared with the public through visualization of terrestrial laser scanner data and photogrammetry integration in support of the story told by the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe. We believe this project will make an important contribution to ongoing efforts to preserve and repurpose the Mt. Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School.

Challenge. Capturing measurements of complex environments through conventional survey methods are time consuming and prone to inaccuracies and drawing miscalculations. The use of LiDAR [Light Detection and Ranging] scanning technologies creates accurate, photo-realistic, high-resolution spatial models of any environment in minutes. The challenge for LiDAR has always been how to convert large point-cloud data into useful information that are actionable and accessible. Many uses of the point cloud data are emerging in the visual digital humanities, civil and environmental engineering, game design, and landscape and environmental sustainability programs.
EIPC now has the machine power, Scan Lab for testing and research, and working methodologies established over the past three years to engage sites such as MIIBS with confidence to produce meaningful assets and platform specific support for the SCIT’s mission at MIIBS. Literature.

Current literature and scholarship on LiDAR applications within architecture, architectural history, archaeology, construction technology, forensics, and fabrication are extensive. Scholarship focusing on gaming engines, like Unreal Engine, prioritize critical frameworks regarding gaming content. Game engine applications in non-game verticals, like this project, is an emerging discourse. The knowledge gap between cross-platform integration between LiDAR and Unreal Engine is substantial, and Empathy in Point-Clouds aims to close this gap.
Toolkit. Over the past 3-years, the Empathy in Point-Clouds research team has refined research methodologies and techniques by scanning and developing several case study sites across campus. Our team has developed proof-of-concept and custom scripts for LiDAR data integration within Unreal Engine to visualize immersive, information-rich, saturated environments through immersive technologies such as virtual reality. Our LiDAR-UE workflow is a powerful toolkit that opens the narrative potential to tell the story of architecture and complex sites in ways that are as diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible, as they are persuasive and compelling to architects, content developers, designers, planners, scholars, and students.

Value-Creation and Complexity. EIPC value creation strategy has been to develop a sample-survey protocol by scanning site-objects across divergent field conditions, market segments, and interdisciplinary research domains. The motivation of this project is part of a mission to create greater empathy within the design process, to decolonize architecture and the city by surveying sites outside the canon of architecture, to create greater access to cultural spatial assets.

As understanding of the world increases in complexity, so too must the research methodologies for architecture, design, and urban technology adopt proportional degrees of intricacy, to address global grand challenges – vividly. In Forensis: The Architecture of Public Truth [2014], author and architect Eyal Weizman states, “The part or the detail becomes an entry point from which to reconstruct larger processes, events, and social relations, conjunctions of actors and practices, structures and technologies.” Empathy in Point-Clouds is about increasing the resolution of spatial assets that centers empathy as an entry point for developing research that explores the interplay between actual physical sites, cultural artifacts, and architecture through virtual sites, simulation modeling, and immersion. Designing empathy within immersive technologies is about co-locating hard-factors, like buildings, landscapes, and urban environments, with soft-factors, such as, psychological identification and emotional-lift through the attitudes, atmospheres, and values outside one’s own.

Empathy in Point-Clouds develops project-based workflows that demonstrate the value of LiDAR scanning point-cloud integration of existing site-objects within the gaming platform, Unreal Engine, to vivify spatial narratives in architecture. We want to inform the next generation of architects, scholars, and thought leaders by defining the terms for designing radically accessible and inclusive architecture; from buildings and environments to digital infrastructures, that are more empathic, equitable, and responsive to virtual and augmented reality visualization, emerging urban technologies, and imaginative world-building.

The unique appeal of the EIPC project is our enthusiasm to incorporate LiDAR and Unreal Engine within design research that closes the accessibility gap between digital content creation, spatial justice, and world-making impact. The EIPC project leverages the interplay between physical and virtual sites – Digital Twins – through empathetic narratives and immersive experiences that animate architecture, urban environments, and the spatial imaginary. Empathy in Point Clouds is about defining research pathways through non-game verticals that use Unreal Engine to build foundations for pedagogical development, innovative scholarship, and positioning research opportunities in AEC sectors and allied creative industries.

Course of Action: Fieldwork and LiDAR Scanning of Mount Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School. This grant will enable research students to assist in scanning three buildings of the MIIBS complex that the architect in collaboration with the SCIT leadership have deemed the primary structures for renovation: the workshop, the gymnasium, and the auditorium buildings. This preliminary work will develop, test, and refine workflows integrating large scale photogrammetry models of buildings with LiDAR point cloud models to create more photo-realistic experiences for a broader set of applications.

Over the past year, we have been building a relationship with Tribal Council members William Johnson, Director of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways, Marcella Hadden, the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, and Christian Nakarado, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, architect, for planning the future programing and renovation of MIIBS. They have written a letter of support of the larger scope of storyboarding a narrative of their story told through the immersive technologies. EIPC will provide the architect, Christian Nakarado, the data in the form of digital models and drawings of the existing site in support of construction documents being prepared for renovation and reuse of the three buildings.
We were recently invited to the Honoring, Healing, and Remembering ceremony at MIIBS, celebrating the closing of the school on June 6th, 1934. The team was given a tour of the campus, calling of the names of those deceased, murdered, and disappeared with drum ceremony, observance of SCIT rituals and cultural artifacts, presentation by Christian Nakarado to the community of future priorities and programming for MIIBS, and a healing session of sharing stories by four Harbor Springs residential boarding school survivors.

Knowledge Curation and Content Velocity. The project provides a means for the EIPC team to apply methodologies developed over the past year. The funding provided last year has enabled the team to continue developing and refining workflows and establish a EIPC Scan Lab supported Research + Creative Practice team of Taubman College and enabled by a corporate partnership with FARO Technologies. This partnership entails a FARO Premium 350m terrestrial laser scanner and software licenses, a certification course for faculty, and EIPC faculty teaching a course certifying students in 3D laser scanning. The course will launch in the fall of 2023 with 21 students registered.

The EIPC Scan Lab is located at Liberty Annex Research Facility supporting testing of materials and photogrammetry, post-processing of data, and visualization production. EIPC team was invited to participate in the inaugural Tradeshow hosted by the Taubman Visualization Lab presenting a few projects we completed last year. The faculty leads also shared the work of EIPC in this week-long event by contributing to a panel discussion, “Visualizing Healthcare” which included a viewing of a fly-through we produced of the scans of the operating room at the Cardiovascular Center of UMHS.

The cross-disciplinary significance of this work has been validated by the ArtsEngine sponsored FEAST project, where we have been working with students and faculty from multiple sectors in the University ecosystem. Externally, this project resides within a research tract that is accelerating and emerging. Our team is excited by the AiiR grant because we feel it will provide our team the ability to work outside the pressures of fall/winter semester to give focus and attention to the project for more extended periods of time and to build collaborative relationships, mentorship, and deep engagement with the SCIT and those invested in raising awareness in the reprogramming of MIIBS as a site of healing, practice of indigenous rituals, teaching of Anishinabe language, and building empathy through immersive engagement.