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Architecture software startups are looking to disrupt the design process — insiders say these are the 15 hottest names to watch

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  • Architecture, unlike it’s counterparty industry, construction, has decisively become a digital industry, with almost all design taking place within popular software platforms like AutoCAD. 
  • With the advent of virtual reality, machine-learning programs that can generate designs algorithmically, and the widespread popularity of cloud-based collaboration tools, tech continues to have drastic effects on architecture.
  • We polled a range of architects, designers, and venture capitalists to create a list of the 15 hottest architectural tech startups. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Architecture straddles the line between art and the practical application of science.

Before computers could handle complicated graphical rendering, much of their work was free-drawn on a drafting table with a pencil.

But with the advent of AutoCAD and other programs, the industry rapidly became a digital industry. While construction, the next step from architecture in the real estate life-cycle, has been slow to apply new tech, architecture has evolved along with it. 

As a result, the cutting edge of architecture technology has embraced machine learning and advanced, real-time rendering to make generative design (computer-generated design options) and even full design automation possible. 

We spoke to a number of venture capitalists, architects, and analysts who study architecture about some of the most cutting-edge startups in the field. While many of the startups are building generative design tools, others are attempting to streamline project management or file storage for architects.

Read on for a list of the 15 hottest architecture tech startups. 

Higharc is a startup that’s working to automate single-family home design.

An animation of Higharc’s home design

Higharc


Most of the products on this list, especially in generative design, are focused on designing for commercial uses. Higharc, founded in 2018, brings generative design to the single family home, with the hope of creating an affordable construction-ready home that’s more interesting than your typical stock design. Without an architect, a potential home owner can create a 3D model of a home and even create functional blueprints to give to a builder. Eventually, the company plans to actually output spec plans to builders through the app. 

Gautam Shenoy, BIM Director at architecture firm Steinberg Hart, described the company to Business Insider as an “upcoming rising star.” Higharc raised a $4.7 million seed round in 2018 that was led by Boston-focused venture fund Pillar VC. 

Spacemaker, a Norwegian generative design company, focuses its efforts on real estate developers and urban planners.

An image analyzing the effects of wind on a building in Spacemaker.

Spacemaker


Spacemaker is one of the biggest money raisers on this list, raising $25 million in a 2019 Series A round led by European-focused VCs Northzone and Atomico. Other funders included UK proptech fund Round Hill Ventures and Nordic property developer OBOS.

Spacemaker generates thousands of potential development options for a site, using zoning, environmental factors, and developer demands as potential inputs. The company’s tools can also test and rank different layouts for how they will affect sun exposure, apartment size, and wind, among other factors. 

upCodes created a search engine for building code standards to prevent code violations.

upCodes founders Scott and Garrett Reynolds

UpCodes


upCodes has compiled the building codes for most US states in a searchable platform that updates in real time by grabbing information directly from their source. It also includes a calculator that compares project parameters to code requirements, and flags any potential issues and a collaboration tool that allows sharing across different construction stakeholders. 

Founded in 2016, the company has raised $785,000 in funding from early Netflix investor Foundation Capital, Y Combinator, and other angel investors. 

Mortarr is a social-network for commercial designers, architects, and construction companies to showcase their work.

An example of Mortarr’s marketing imagery.

Mortarr


Mortarr is a website where commercial architects, designers, and construction firms can show off their work, and potentially make connections that will get them more work down the line. The site is like a mixture of Pinterest and LinkedIn, and designers can collect together inspirations from other designers, while subscribing to their favorite designers on the platform. It also allows users to tag photos with the specific brand of lighting fixture or hardware, so that other users can easily find it for their own products. 

Mortarr was founded in 2017 out of a Minnesota marketing and design firm Brick, and has not raised any venture capital funds. 

Twinmotion is another real-time 3D rendering software product that actually was acquired by the developers of the Unreal Engine.

A screenshot of a rendering created in Twinmotion.

Twinmotion


While Modumate was created using the Unreal Engine, Twinmotion was acquired by Epic Games, the developer of the Unreal Engine. It’s functionality is also similar to Modumate, and creates real time renderings of architectural projects. It also has VR capabilities.

Epic Games acquired Twinmotion in 2019 for an undisclosed amount. The product was free before the acquisition, though Epic Games announced that they will begin to charge for it later in 2020. 

Enscape is another real-time rendering software that has been been around longer than Modumate and Twinmotion.

An example of an Enscape rendering.

Enscape


Enscape is another real-time rendering software that uses a different rendering engine than Modumate and Twinmotion. Enscape was founded in 2017 and is based in Germany. Like it’s other competitors on the list, it can also be used to create VR renderings. 

Enscape has not raised any venture capital. Earlier this month, it announced an investment from LEA Partners, a German private equity fund

TonicDM is a cloud-based file management application that was designed specifically for architects and engineers.

TonicDM’s team at their headquarters.

TonicDM


While many of the other companies on this list either generate building designs algorithmically or render them in 3D in real time, TonicDM’s product cuts back on the administrative costs of managing all of the files they output. TonicDM (the DM stands for document management) categorizes emails by project, has its own file management and transfer tool that automatically files in the correct project, and integrates with Procore and other construction management software to reduce data entry.

TonicDM was founded in 2016. The company has not raised any venture funding. 

Visual Vocal is a collaboration platform that brings all communication into virtual reality.



REUTERS/Ruben Sprich


Visual Vocal, incubated by prestigious architecture firm NBBJ, is a VR enterprise collaboration tool for architects, engineers, and designers. The product not only displays designs in VR, but actually brings communication and criticism of the design to VR as well. This allows for real-time collaboration on a rendering, instead of requiring users to record and send their observations after the fact. Visual Vocals provides its own VR glasses, which make the product accessible for users who don’t own expensive VR equipment. 

Visual Vocal has raised $6.1 million in funding, including a $3.6 million dollar round in 2017 that was led by seed-investor Eniac Ventures. The company was founded in 2016 in partnership with NBBJ, but also has potential applications in the automotive and larger, non-architectural design industries. 

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