Housing quality set to soar with new 3D land data marketplace

Architect Simon Cookes says 2D land maps used by most architects preclude most of the market from quality. This is why he created a new tech platform that gives architects easy access to 3D land data, and already, it’s attracted attention from the likes of Nightingale Housing co-founder Jeremy McLeod.

Director of DB Architecture Simon Cookes went back to university to do a masters degree to better understand 3D scanning technology. He then created what he claims is a world-first platform called LARKI to equip architects and planners with accurate information and detail about a site rather than a 2D land survey which he says is “an abstraction of what the real world is.”

Cookes told The Fifth Estate that most architects are still working from these 2D land surveys to inform their designs despite the fact that 3D scanning technology has been around for over a decade.

This is because 3D scanning, which can be integrated with CAD software, is expensive and inaccessible for architecture firms, which rarely employ more than 20 people. The customers of major landscaping firms are usually city councils for massive jobs, not architecture firms for the “smaller scale stuff”, Cookes says.

Because the majority of the built environment is made up of homes, most of the design work in Australia is being done using inaccurate 2D land plans that consist of around 100 data points (compared to 30 million points or every six millimetres for 3D laser scanning).

The end result is that “crap buildings get built” because architects don’t have enough information to design from and these designs are poorly communicated to planners.

It’s also more difficult to build homes that meet sustainability ambitions. For example, from a 2D plan it’s difficult to see when a neighbouring home might restrict cross flow ventilation or sunlight. 

For solar panels, it can be hard to know what the perfect inclination is or if shadows from nearby trees or street signs will block them unless working off 3D models. 

2D plans also don’t show small inclines or bumps in the ground that might make a building inaccessible for a disabled occupant, Cookes added.

“The environment is a very complex system so it needs complex modelling and computers are good at it and humans aren’t. I think it is important to give it the level of sophistication that it requires,” he says.

LARKI will lead to better, more accurate designs and planning

The LARKI software platform functions like a spatial data marketplace. Land surveyors upload their 3D spatial data to the platform so that it can be downloaded by architects “in a couple of clicks” at a much lower price than if they contracted a land surveyor directly. 

The end result is that land surveyors end up with a passive income from the data being sold on their behalf, and architects have “quicker and cheaper” access to spatial data that is “millions of times better quality”.

For planners, architects are able to clearly communicate their designs in this 3D format. This will hopefully lead to better and more efficient planning decisions.

Data coverage is one hurdle but Cookes is talking a tactical approach

One challenge is getting land surveyors to sign up so that there’s coverage of most areas. Cookes says the team has “got some

Simon Cookes, DB Architecture

unique ways of getting there” including bulk buying spatial data and training up surveyors to service areas where there isn’t downloadable data available yet.

But so far, he says there’s most of the data for the City of Melbourne available. Sydney is the next target, he says, but the intention is to eventually cover international locations as well.

The small team will be looking at securing investors next. “Up until now we’ve focused on getting architects onboard.

Some big name architects are already on board

Cookes has been working on the platform full time for six month and is launching the software on 14 December. So far, he’s got a number of high-profile architects on board including Jeremy McLeod, director of Breathe Architecture and co-founder of Nightingale Housing, Six Degrees Architects, McBride Charles Ryan, Hayball and BKK Architects are also on the “big and growing list”.

“It’s early days, very early days. But we’re stoked.”

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