Innovation. It’s one of the things startups are most often associated with, and in almost every industry, talented entrepreneurs are finding solutions for problems we didn’t even know existed. The world of architecture is no exception.
As a field, architecture is emblematic of the driving forces behind so many startups: expertise suffused with creativity and originality. Now, new businesses are finding ways to redefine the ways we think about and approach construction and design.
From providing services and tools that make the job of the architect easier than ever, to creating entirely new ways for us to design buildings themselves, startups are having a massive impact on the industry. As architects continue to redefine the world around us, small businesses like these are finding ways to redefine how they do it.
While many aspects of architecture are deeply rooted in the physical, data is vital to the profession, and many startups are tapping into this by finding unique ways to facilitate data provision and sharing within the industry.
Take UpCodes, a business formed in 2015 by two entrepreneurs with experience in architecture and backend design. The platform they created initially acted as a comprehensive search engine for building codes, requirements, and regulations, providing resources for 40 U.S states. The service expanded, and now even includes an augmented reality tool (more on that later).
Usually, solutions such as these are brilliantly simple in their concept, as many of the best business ideas are. Immensely useful (and often swiftly indispensable) to architecture firms, these products and services find ways to make data work for architects – not the other way around.
Augmented reality & A.I
The potential of augmented reality and A.I technology has expanded dramatically, and many startups are tapping into this to provide architects with solutions that wouldn’t have been possible even a handful of years ago.
Take, for example, the aforementioned UpCodes, who expanded to offer an A.I tool that allows designers to check their own blueprints for code violations in real time, removing the need for manual and time-consuming cross-referencing of building regulations. Tools like this aren’t simply a gimmick – they actively cut down on the time and effort architects need to put into the analytical side of their work.
Counter to this, startups are also finding ways to use augmented reality to transform the experience on the client side. Architects and construction specialists often work with homeowners, and traditionally there has been a significant divide in understanding – clients simply have to trust the expertise and recommendations of their chosen supplier, relying on things such as 3D designs and sketches to picture their finished project.
In contrast to this, digital technology and augmented reality have facilitated some ‘out of the box thinking’ among innovative entrepreneurs. UK-based startup CG Eye recently developed an app which enables clients to see an augmented 3D model of their solutions, as they will appear in their own home.
This adds a whole new level of immersion and enables architects and specialists to provide clients with a consumer experience that is cutting edge, and reflective of their own innovative offerings. This client-facing focus is a significant and positive step forward in making architecture more accessible.
Another integral aspect of architecture is education. In the UK for instance, all registered architects are required to undertake an annual quota of ‘Continuous Professional Development’ sessions to maintain their RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) qualified status.
In the same way that medical professionals are required to regularly update their skills, and teachers need to attend pedagogical training, architects work in a field that takes action to prevent professional stagnation.
In line with this, some startups have sought to find ways to make it simpler and easier for architects to access resources to update their knowledge and abilities. Marc Teer, who identified this as a potential gap in the market, founded the startup Black Spectacles to assist architects looking to master a variety of the most popular and widely used software tools in the industry. As well as offering classes on various tools, Black Spectacles also help American architects prepare for their Architect Registration Exam.
As e-learning increases in popularity and the role of architecture schools comes under scrutiny, it’s not surprising to see startups finding ways to challenge the status quo. What will be interesting is how new businesses continue to find ways to redefine how we think about and approach professional development.
Networking and connecting
As with countless other industries, networking is a central tenet of architecture. The most successful projects take place, usually, as a result of collaboration between specialists, suppliers, contractors, and architects; Whilst wine and canape evenings may have their place, they don’t necessarily tap into the potential of modern interconnectivity. This is where a number of startups such as ‘Source’ are finding success.
A side project from Architizer, a hugely popular portfolio platform, Source enables architects to connect with suppliers and specializes in all kinds of construction niches easily, in one place. This online marketplace acts as a community hub for the industry, allowing professionals in a wide variety of areas to connect and work together.
In a profession that is (perhaps unfairly) regarded as one that encourages individualistic ego, it’s inspiring to see new businesses and startups finding ways to bring the community together. As technology and industry advance at an alarming rate, collaboration is going to be essential, and its reaffirming to see that startups already have a role to play in facilitating this.
It’s perhaps unsurprising to hear that startups aren’t just making waves in the way architects work – they’re actually finding ways to change how we go about design and construction in their own right.
This is particularly true of the newly emerging prefab and dwelling home marketplace. As manufacturing and design technologies have advanced, it’s become possible for us to construct entire ‘flat pack’ buildings that can be prepared off-site, delivered, and then built in place quickly and easily.
This is another area of architecture in which startups are having a noticeable impact on the industry. Take L.A based business ‘Cover’, who were founded in 2014, who have effectively streamlined the entire prefab dwelling construction process. They design and construct cost-effective and eco-friendly homes, negating the need for consultation with other parties including architects and contractors.
Their software enables clients to design a home in a modular way, using data on local regulations and survey information. This is potentially one of the most significant developments in the field, as it fundamentally subverts the role of the architect in the design and construction purpose. Could this mean the pressure will be on for architects to reassert their place in the world of construction moving forwards?
There seems to be a collective sense of drive and passion to maintain the significance of the role of the architect. It’s inspiring to see so many businesses finding ways to remove obstacles and make it more straightforward for architects to embrace their originality and creativity – the central pillars of the profession.
Even those startups working to redefine how we go about construction are likely to only have a positive impact on the industry – if alternatives such as prefabs become more readily available, it places an onus on the modern architect to find ways to reassert and redefine their role within the construction of a better and brighter society.
This article was contributed by London-based Architectural Glazing firm Cantifix. Cantifix have been exploring the possibilities in glazing for over 30 years, and are passionate about working with businesses to ensure the world of architecture continues to grow and thrive.