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How Craven Dunnill rebuilt a beloved British pub based on just a few 3D scans

Challenge: Faithfully recreating a local landmark from scratch based on a mere handful of old photos and the four tile fragments left behind by bulldozers.

Solution: Artec Space Spider, Artec Studio, Rhino 3D

Result: Artec 3D scanning tile remnants yielded the design data needed to rebuild the pub from scratch, using old photos as a reference, and revive its distinct 1960s appearance with incredible accuracy – including all its unique flaws and defects.

Why Artec 3D? With the high-resolution Space Spider, tiles could be digitized, right down to the tiniest of details. This precision data capture, along with Studio’s rapid registration and editing tools, shortened a potentially weeks-long capture process to a matter of minutes, and allowed the pub’s original spirit to be recovered, despite it seemingly being lost.

Craven Dunhill Digital Surfaces

The 1960s-style rebuilt Elephant and Castle pub in Wolverhampton, UK.

Little did they know when they awoke on March 4 2001, the people of Wolverhampton were in for a shock. When they left homes in the British midlands that morning, the historic pub at the heart of their community still stood; by the evening it was completely destroyed.

To make matters worse, the developer responsible for flattening the Elephant and Castle did so hastily, just before it could be listed as a heritage site, causing outrage among the locals.

Despite the people of Wolverhampton being keen to resurrect their treasured pub, little was left of the original. Not a brick survived – even the iconic elephant statue that lived above its entrance was gone – just some rubble and broken tiles remained.

Thankfully, however, the remnants were recovered and stored in a museum, where experts at Craven Dunnill Jackfield could later 3D scan them. What followed was a remarkable journey that saw the pub restored from some shattered tiles to its former glory.

Blending technologies old and new

Over the last 150 years, Craven Dunnill has restored iconic sites across the UK, ranging from Kew Gardens and Harrods to a London Underground station. Its core business revolves around recreating ceramic tiles and other classic interiors, and it continues to invest in new restoration methods that combine hand craftsmanship with advanced technologies.

Working with the Centre for Print Research (CFPR) at UWE Bristol as part of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP), the firm has put this philosophy at the heart of its process.

Together, the organizations have uncovered a way of capturing heritage items with an Artec Space Spider supplied by Artec Ambassador Central Scanning, which picks up highly complex colors and shapes – even on reflective ceramic surfaces.

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Craven Dunnill’s Jed Hammerman 3D scanning ceramic tiling at another site with Artec Space Spider.

Craven Dunnill’s Jed Hammerman says they tried using arm-mounted devices to the same effect, but they were “too large to drag around old buildings.” He adds that the fully wireless AI-powered Artec Leo “would also have done an excellent job,” but having tested Space Spider so extensively with UWE, they chose to stick with what they knew.

While the resulting approach still involves CNC machining and hand-finishing tiles, it now means they can be scanned in-situ, eliminating risk of breakage. It also allows original designs to be captured with unmatched accuracy and immortalized in digital form.

According to Hammerman, switching from photography to 0.1 mm-resolution Space Spider 3D scanning, has also been a real game changer in other ways – not just boosting capture precision – but digitizing its wider workflow.

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One of the original tile fragments following 3D scanning and editing on Artec Studio.

“If you use a photograph, you’ll have a reflection coming in from one direction, and then each of your tiles will be lined up with this weird distortion,” said Hammerman. “Now, when I work on a design, the results are a lot more realistic and look less like a quick Photoshop job. We’ve also got all this data backed up, so we’re taking a much more scientific approach.”

“3D scanning is now an important part of our process. Pairing the technology with hand crafting and CNC machining has made it a really useful restoration tool.”

Recapturing the 1960s spirit

In 2018, the Black Country Living Museum unveiled plans to rebuild Wolverhampton’s Elephant and Castle on the site of its Forging Ahead exhibit, a historic development opened to celebrate changes to life and architecture in the city from the 1940s to 1960s.

Tasked with recreating the original pub’s decor using period photos as a guide, Hammerman began by digitizing the tiles recovered from one of its pillars. Space Spider’s high 3D point accuracy and ability to capture detailed textures meant it could precisely digitize their intricate patterns in full color within minutes, which would later be used as a basis for the rebuild.

“The flowing nature of these patterns didn’t lend themselves to drawing,” explained Hammerman. “I’m sure lots of people could draw them on CAD, but it would’ve been quite a journey, and I think customers would’ve picked up on the differences. Our 3D scans looked handcrafted with all the nuances and weird imperfections left in there.”

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Part of the new signage that adorns the now-reopened Elephant and Castle pub.

With Artec Studio 3D scanning software, Hammerman was then able to rapidly register scans, before tidying them up with its built-in editing tools. Interestingly, mesh simplification in Artec Studio allows users to reduce file size without compromising accuracy, but he made a point of leaving meshes “dense and detailed” when exporting to CAD design program Rhino 3D.

Once there, Hammerman says his colleagues carried out some “magic steps” that restored detail lost to the tiles’ glossy sheen, and sent them for machining and hand-finishing.

As you’d imagine, piecing a pub together with only tile scans and 1960s photos was a huge task, but just 18 months later, it was ready to reopen. Complete with an era-appropriate bar, smoking area, and elephant statue above the door, Hammerman believes the incredible rebuild was worth the wait, and hails 3D scanning “for speeding the whole process up.”

What next for Craven Dunnill?

Far from finished in the field of pub restoration, Craven Dunnill has already begun working on another site, this time located in Chester. Known for its medieval architecture, the small city will soon be home to a new watering hole, featuring an elaborate curved bar.

To measure up the bar for tiling, Hammerman and his team have digitized the entire structure with Space Spider and used it as a basis for a detailed 3D rendering. Having sent this to the pub’s designers for review, he says 3D scanning will continue to be useful for establishing a “3D library where designs can be stored and quickly sent to architects” as needed.

Craven Dunhill Digital Surfaces

Wolverhampton’s Elephant and Castle pub has once again opened its doors.

While Central Scanning Marketing Manager Alex Chung has hailed long-time customer UWE for continually “delivering innovation via KTP partnerships,” Hammerman says he can also see Craven Dunnill using 3D scanning to restore further sites.

Only, he doesn’t foresee the technology replacing traditional hand-crafting. Instead, he claims the two can work in tandem, to deliver stunningly detailed tiles at an unprecedented pace.

“Most of our Victorian processes remain the same. Combining 3D scanning and hand-crafting has just sped everything up,” concluded Hammerman. “What the customer sees is a handcrafted tile – there’s just a bit of digitizing magic involved at the beginning of the process.”

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