Article Title

Good Design | Spherical Cameras Improve Work Flow

Uiuc Spherical 5 Reduced


By Chris Hainer

My site visit maxim is “There can never be too many photos.” To explain, I like to tell the story of the missing boilers. On a site visit years ago, my coworker and I walked through a facility with a mechanical room that was probably half full with very large boilers. We took several pictures yet when I needed to know the boiler count; I found that we had managed to photograph every corner of the mechanical room without ever capturing any portion of a boiler. 

Every architect and engineer has had a moment like this; missing photographic documentation. Sometimes we can find the information somewhere else and sometimes we have to go back to the site; a time-consuming extra step for us and the client. Furthermore, some spaces are just too small to easily capture with a regular camera, such as electrical closets, but these tight spaces are often where we have to find space for new equipment as the design progresses.

Technology has finally made my maxim obsolete as Bailey Edward recently invested in several Ricoh Theta spherical image cameras. These cameras instantly capture a full 360° view with a single click. Where a typical camera is limited to recording what is directly in front of it, a spherical camera removes that limit by using multiple lenses. The camera’s image sphere is a warped looking jpeg much like Google Street View, where one can pan around to look side-to-side, up or down, or even backwards. The concept is very similar to the panorama mode on a camera phone, but involves less effort on the part of the photographer and works much more quickly.

Now when doing a field survey, we take a spherical image of each space as we pass through, recording a holistic view of the facility that we can review later. Regular photos document details and conditions that require more attention. This is especially useful for team members that may not have been on site during the investigation and, therefore, do not have the first-hand knowledge of the space to help orient themselves. The project team is able to get a much better idea of the project and work more effectively, avoiding errors that can be costly down the road.

There are many things these cameras allow the project team to accomplish more easily and thoroughly than before, including the following:

  • Identify finishes of each surface in a space
  • Draft accurate ceiling plans and identify the correct number of light fixtures, diffusers and returns
  • Locate and note all of the equipment, outlets, and fire alarm devices
  • Confirm where regular detail photos were taken
  • Trace piping, conduit and ductwork through mechanical spaces to confirm connections and utility paths
  • Identify possible locations for new equipment in tight spaces, such as electrical closets and mechanical rooms
  • Take amazing and awkward self portraits

The immediate outcome is that the project team is working from a better, more thorough understanding of the facility, and is able to confirm layouts and conditions that may otherwise have been hard to determine in the past. The end result is that we can produce more accurate construction documents and avoid changes during construction.

To demonstrate the capabilities of the spherical camera, I recently took some 360° photos of completed University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign projects.