Before the tragedy seen all around the world, flames leaping from the top of Notre-Dame Cathedral, there was a smaller one, thousands of miles away in upstate New York.
Andrew Tallon, a pioneering architectural historian and father of four, died on November 16, 2018, from brain cancer. He was 49. He had dedicated his life to the study of medieval architecture, its mysteries and resonances, blending in his interest in technology to create novel ways of studying centuries-old buildings.
“When you’re working on medieval buildings, it’s difficult to have the impression you can say anything new. They’ve been looked at and written about for ages,” Tallon told a documentary crew in 2015. “So I’ve been using more sophisticated technology these days to try to get new answers from the buildings.”
And so it was that in 2010, Tallon, an art professor at Vassar, took a Leica ScanStation C10 to Notre-Dame and, with the assistance of Columbia’s Paul Blaer, began to painstakingly scan every piece of the structure, inside and out. They mounted the Leica on a tripod, put up markers throughout the space, and set the machine to work. Over five days, they positioned the scanner again and again—50 times in all—to create an unmatched record of the reality of one of the world’s most awe-inspiring buildings, represented as a series of points in space. Tallon also took high-resolution panoramic photos to map onto the three-dimensional forms that the laser scanner could create.