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Open up to Prop Tech

Maria Smith

Modern technology could make our lives so much easier – if only we’d let it

From CAD to BIM to 3D Printing, Con Tech – or Construction Technology – has changed the way we draw, design and build, but the current generation of Prop Tech has the potential to change the way we practise.

What comes to mind when you think about Prop Tech? Zoopla? AirBnB? Do you think about Prop Tech as something that’s relevant to architecture? Or at all?

Last April, the University of Oxford’s Said Business School published Prop Tech 3.0: The Future of Real Estate. The report defines Prop Tech 1.0 as technology developed from 1980-2000 chiefly to organise and analyse data describing the performance of the real estate industry. It rates as late stage Prop Tech 1.0 the likes of Rightmove (started in 2000). Prop Tech 2.0, which the report places us in the thick of now, is characterised by ecommerce, social networking, open-source software and the multi-platform world. For example, Opendoor has been labelled a potential Amazon of property as it buys any house within days, does the repairs and then offers the market a quality assured or even standardised product. Or Knocker, hailed the Tinder for real estate, essentially provides an interface for Zoopla’s enormous database: swipe right to arrange a viewing. Prop Tech 3.0, the report predicts, will be characterised by blockchain (the underpinning of crypto-currencies) and AI.

But before we get too excited about replicant architects, we must remember that the built environment is notoriously slow, and still has much to learn from Prop Tech 2.0. Do some current platforms and technologies signify a shift in the wider industry that we could exploit or prepare for? Here are a few punts.

The way these platforms broker interactions between tenants and landlords reduces admin and improves relations. Sounds ok to me!

Fee proposals, scopes of work, variations, fee draws and so on could all be organised via an online platform accessible by both client and consultant from any device, saving us and our clients time and angst. They could be modelled on platforms like Goodlord, No Agent and Fixflo. Goodlord manages tenancy agreements. No Agent allows landlords to manage their property online, and Fixflo collects information about repairs and compiles them into concise reports. The way these platforms broker interactions between tenants and landlords reduces admin and improves relations. Sounds ok to me!

Imagine if  the Architect’s Job Book were a piece of software, holding your hand through each project, prompting you to scope a survey or arrange a pre-app meeting or update a risk register. The users of Re-Leased enjoy a cloud-based property management software that prompts inspections, lease re-negotiations and so on. While this might sound a bit ‘death of the professions’, automating repetitious processes and organising information are the bread and butter of such technologies. Imagine making a site inspection by taking photos and dictating comments to your phone that are automatically formatted and collated by the time you get back to the office. Mindworking automates the production of marketing information for estate agents. Imagine that we too could automate the production of repetitious elements of reports from design and access statements to snagging lists.

Imagine that we too could automate the production of repetitious elements of reports from design and access statements to snagging lists

Regulation compliance software is already with us to an extent. IES, for example, helps us meet Part L, but as BIM workflows now keep our designs in live schedules more easily processable and comparable with a myriad of design standards, we might soon be able to check our designs against all the building regs, Eurocodes and more. The Prop Tech provocateur here is the Depository, the UK’s first-ever letting regulation compliance platform. While this will start out like a spell checker that only tells you the word doesn’t exist in the dictionary, with a dash of AI these compliance software packages will be asking ‘Did you mean to create a pinch-point in this fire escape route?’ in no time.

The shift that I’m in some ways most excited about is how sophisticated listings platforms will change the way clients and architects find each other. What is the Zoopla of architecture? Matchmaking in our industry is woefully behind the times, either powered by procurement sites that belong in the 1990s or privilege- and prejudice-perpetuating networking that belongs in the 1890s. I can’t wait for the industry forecast by the likes of Buy Architecture or Built-ID, the former providing a platform where architects can sell the existing copyrighted designs, and the latter describing themselves as Shazaam for the built environment. The technology already exists to dramatically overhaul shopping for architects. Realyse, Hubble, Land Insight are but a few of the Prop Tech platforms that afford users powerful search tools.

On this, as with many innovations our industry is reluctant to take up, the barrier isn’t so much the technical feasibility as the cultural upheaval. It will be easy to shop for architects as soon as architects are willing to be shopped for. 

Maria Smith is a director of architecture and engineering at Interrobang


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