The United States Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel Has Been Captured (Don’t Worry – That’s a Good Thing)

Categories: Engineering

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Air Force, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

The cadet chapel at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is a stunning building featuring 17 identical spires that soar 150 feet into the air. Dedicated in 1963, it is a Modernist architectural gem and one of Colorado’s most photographed landmarks.

1Viewing a point cloud of the interior of the US Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel in Autodesk ReCap

Unfortunately, half a century of exposure to the elements will take its toll on any building. The chapel’s concrete foundation, for example, has been damaged by annual freeze-thaw cycles, and the building is experiencing water infiltration.

But what other repairs might be needed and how best to communicate the need for renovation work to key stakeholders? The Academy decided it was time to assess the existing state of the chapel by documenting the structure in an entirely new way.

To tackle this task, the Academy worked with Autodesk, whose ReCap reality capture software is able to digest data from multiple reality capture sources and generate a single, photorealistic 3D model capturing every detail of a structure.

Autodesk performed 129 scans of the interior and exterior of the cadet chapel using a FARO Focus 3D x330 laser scanner while an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) toting a GoPro camera captured 1,232 photos of the exterior. The UAV also recorded high-definition video footage of both the interior and exterior.

This data was then processed in ReCap, producing a three-dimensional “virtual chapel” that will provide utility far beyond inspecting the building for structural damage or visualizing renovation options.

“The intelligent 3D model can be used for a wide variety of applications, including air flow and energy cost analysis, three-dimensional printing, and special event planning,” said Pete Kelsey, strategic projects executive at Autodesk. “The model can also be made accessible online, so that users can take a web-based virtual tour of the chapel.”

So how, exactly, would that process work? Initially, the ReCap data is inserted into Revit, Autodesk’s popular Building Information Modeling (BIM) authoring platform. Using the point cloud information as a reference, the intelligent model is created as a Revit project. Once imported into Revit, the possibilities are nearly endless as Autodesk’s High Performance Building Design Solutions are brought to bear. Whole-building envelope energy analysis can be performed using Revit’s integrated access to cloud service Green Building Studio to determine which upgrades to the building structure may have the greatest impact on energy use. Lighting Analysis for Revit provides detailed daylighting and electric lighting simulations visualized directly in the model. Exterior wind studies can be conducted in Revit using Autodesk Flow Design. Then, Autodesk Simulation CFD (CFD = computational fluid dynamics) can perform more advanced studies to inform the best HVAC design to save energy and ensure the comfort of the chapel occupants. Bi-directional integration between Revit and Autodesk Robot Structural Analysis Professional also offers the capability to perform a wide range of structural analyses, including a new wind load simulation feature that would be useful in studying the unique geometry of the Cadet Chapel. And direct links from Revit to programs such as Autodesk 3ds Max Design enables unmatched visualization and animation possibilities. 

Not headed to Colorado Springs anytime soon? Here are some images and video to give you a closer look at this iconic building.


Video of the exterior of the US Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel taken with a GoPro camera attached to a drone from DJI.


Navigating the point cloud in Autodesk ReCap.

Exterior view of the beautiful US Air Force Academy Chapel

Interior view of the beautiful US Air Force Academy Chapel