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News and updates from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

3D Scans Guide School of Architecture at Taliesin Graduate in Student Lounge Project at Taliesin West

Jose Amaya | Feb 7, 2019

For his thesis project, Jose Amaya, a recent graduate of the School of Architecture at Taliesin (SoAT), is working toward expressing SoAT’s identity, while addressing the need for a student lounge space on Taliesin West’s campus. Here, in part 2 of this series, he explains how the use of technology and 3D scanning has aided tremendously in the process of creating a new lounge.

As the School of Architecture at Taliesin’s student population continues to grow rapidly, students are increasingly in need of a space to call their own. In the final year of my studies, I decided to focus my Master of Architecture thesis on a project the School has prioritized to serve the student body: renovating the existing student lounge. The thesis is a unique design challenge because the students are immersed in the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright.

The student lounge is a desert masonry building located near campus where students can relax and socialize apart from their intense academic activities and the Foundation tours that occur daily in the historic core buildings of the Taliesin West campus. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West is located in Scottsdale, Arizona. Taliesin West is a National Historic Register Site, the School and the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation both have core operations located on this site since Wright passed away in 1959. With both organizations using the site and public access increasing, the need for updating this quiet student location has become a viable inquiry.

The historic nature of the property makes the task of accurate documentation difficult. The decay that the site has seen over the years has earned itself the nickname the Broken Lounge by the student body. Luckily, while I was in the early stages in my documentation of the student lounge, the Foundation was provided a generous in-kind donation of 3D laser scans of Taliesin West, by Leica Geosystems and Multivista.

3D Point Cloud done with Leica’s 3D scanning technology

3D measurement model made with field measurements

Overlay comparison with 3D Point Cloud and 3D measurement model

When Brian Smith of Multivista was undertaking this work over the past year, using ground- based technology, he graciously offered to scan the existing student lounge as well. This proved to be valuable as there were no accurate as-built survey or even original plans for the structure. This is often the case with the buildings at Taliesin and Taliesin West, many of which were built by Wright and his apprentices as part of their training and as needs dictated to serve their ongoing uses of the site.

While I did measure the site by hand, Brian offered to scan the site as a way to make comparisons between their accuracy. This additional level of precision became an immensely helpful step in my design process. I was able to identify many flaws compared to my hand-measured model which made for a much more accurate construction document set and ensuing budget. It was an excellent learning experience to see firsthand the assumptions that can be made when taking measurements manually (with a tape measurer, pen and pencil) on an existing historical site like this. The 3D scan revealed three main errors in the assumptions I made when I constructed an existing 3D model from the field measurements: the main fireplace was half of its actual mass, the corners of the existing masonry were not 90 degrees, and there was less existing soil around the site.

“Working with the School of Architecture at Taliesin and scanning the student lounge was a great experience. The project was a practical demonstration of how Leica Geosystems laser scanning technologies quickly and accurately capture comprehensive data on a complicated site. But even more impressive was how the students and faculty immediately began thinking differently about 3D modeling and approaching standard architectural problems from new perspectives. I am inspired by my work with this team and look forward to seeing where they will take digital innovation next.” – Brian Smith, Construction Technologist


Jose’s Broken Lounge Project is still in the process of being completed. To learn more about the project and how you can support a new student space at Taliesin West, contact Jose.


Students celebrate the December 2018 graduates in the partially-completed student lounge area. Photo by Henry Cazares / Bryant Rojas.

First, the fireplace is a highly custom shape, formed by the hands of apprentices from years past. This makes for a difficult shape to accurately measure by hand and transfer to a 3D modeling program. The measurements I took did help to construct a cursory model based on accurate field measurements. But even with these measurements, the 3D scan is not limited to measurements of distance but includes a host of points that can more accurately transfer into geometric form. It is much harder to create an accurate geometry by only taking hand measurements.

Second, the historic desert masonry walls of the multipurpose gathering area were not set at 90-degrees in relation to the floor, thus creating a sense of spaciousness that became important to preserve. In hand-measuring the existing historic walls of the student lounge, my assumption was that they were exactly perpendicular from each other. The 3D scan demonstrated that the walls are slightly broader than 90-degrees thus creating a feeling of openness and greater volume over the 35-foot-span of this area of the as-built structure. To enhance the effect created by the angled walls, my design removed a decaying roof over these walls.

In addition, the scan measurements helped me correctly calculate the volume of concrete needed for the interior slab and ensured that the quantity takeoff for the new concrete floor that was poured was accurately ordered for the job. Finally, topographical scan points taken at a distance from the existing structure were also used to generate a grading plan.

Point Cloud of the fireplace area

3D measurement model of the fireplace area


Overlay comparison showing the discrepancies at the fireplace’s mass

This helped structural engineers, Michael Berkey and Saket Kumar of Thornton Tomasetti, who also have graciously donated in-kind structural analysis for this project, to develop accurate structural calculations for the new shading structures at the student lounge. The topographical scan also helped pinpoint locations of existing mature trees and cacti so we could carefully preserve them on the site through the buildout of Phase I construction.

“Designing a retaining wall for overturning loads, applied due to fill only on one side, would have been conservative. A precise grading plan suggested that there were fills on both sides of the wall, which reduced the effective overturning load demands on the retaining wall.” – Saket Kumar, Engineer, Thornton Tomasestti

Both Leica and Multivista’s scans, and the engineering analysis by Thornton Tomasetti’s engineers have been invaluable in moving Phase I of this project to completion. Me and the entire student body at SoAT, are deeply thankful for the time and effort both firms have donated in making Phase I of this project a reality.

3D Point Cloud at the interior courtyard

3D Measurement Model at the interior courtyard

Overlay comparison demonstrating the interior walls are not perpendicular


all photos courtesy of Jose Amaya unless otherwise noted.

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