Liu Lends Technological Expertise to Historical Research

Point cloud image of the Old Depot Museum in Selma, Alabama. (image courtesy of Danielle Willkens)

Junshan Liu, Associate Professor in the McWhorter School of Building Science (BSCI), combines his expertise in technology with an interest in historical research.

“Junshan is one of our most productive and innovative researchers,” said Karen Rogers, Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research in the College of Architecture, Design and Construction (CADC). “He is a pioneer in the use of Historic Building Information Modeling (HBIM).” Liu works with an interdisciplinary team to “bring history to life” on a number of historical preservation projects, many of them related to the rich civil rights history in the region. 

In addition to HBIM, Liu’s research methods incorporate innovative construction survey technology, including Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), photogrammetry and Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), to digitally document and restore heritage sites and built structures. 

Liu and his team, which includes BSCI school head Richard Burt and other colleagues from the CADC, Auburn’s History Department and Georgia Tech University, have used this technology in conjunction with more traditional archival research to record and recreate the setting and the events of the Bloody Sunday conflict which took place in Selma, Alabama, in 1965. Liu and his team were awarded a National Park Service African American Civil Rights grant for the production of a Historic Structures Report for the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which played an important role in this event. 

Liu was also involved in a project for the Old Depot Museum in Selma, which hosts collections of artifacts and photographs related to Bloody Sunday and Southern history. With Danielle Willkens of Georgia Tech, Liu used LiDAR, photogrammetry and UAVs to fully record the museum’s historic fabric. They also created drawings and an HBIM model of the building to help assess its condition and needs for restoration in the future. A 360-degree virtual tour, created by Liu and Willkens, is available on the museum’s website.

Liu is currently working on another project that utilizes his expertise in technology and historic preservation. He and Visiting Assistant Professor Gorham Bird of CADC’s architecture program have received a Creative Work and Social Impact Scholarship grant from Auburn University to digitally document Rosenwald Schools in the South. Built in the 1920s, Rosenwald Schools were the result of a program created by famed educator Booker T. Washington and retail executive Julius Rosenwald for the education of African American children.They played a vital role in meeting their communities’ needs. The Rosenwald project grew out of Liu’s success in using 3D modeling in civil rights-related historic preservation.

While his time working on research off-campus can be significant, Liu says that he enjoys bringing his findings into the classroom. “The research I’m doing can really elevate my teaching,” he said. “I can use what I learn from historical preservation research to help both the community and the construction industry, and I am always excited to share my work with my students.”

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Junshan Liu