A new digital construction design tool utecture allows people to see the carbon footprint of each extra en suite or butler’s pantry as they design their dream home in real time

Introduced to the Australian and New Zealand markets earlier this year, the Donovan Group spinoff is a pre-construction design platform that tracks key metrics such as prices, embodied emissions and expected operational energy use during the final design phases. 

Gavin Tonnet

Chief executive officer of the company, Gavin Tonnet, says the technology slashes the time and costs incurred by the builder when customers request alterations and add ons. He says the standard back-and-forth during the design phase can account for 14 per cent of the non-construction home building costs. His company has spent five years refining the software that can cut down the process of re-quoting design tweaks from 10-12 weeks to an hour.

The platform is already in use by detached home builders in Australia and New Zealand, Tonnet told The Fifth Estate, with plans to launch in the states in the next 12 months.

As well as volume builders, the company has also snagged materials suppliers as customers. These clients are using the tool to rapidly quote the price of materials. 

The platform is not the only digital pre-construction design tool on the market but Tonnet says most others only model the aesthetics of the design. He says his company’s tool also offers visualisation and project management features but the ability to price the design and attribute environmental impacts in real time is what makes it unique. 

The modernising construction challenge 

Tonnet, who has many years under his belt in the property and construction industries and has led businesses for Mirvac, Leighton, Stockland and Sekisui House, has always taken an interest in streamlining and modernising the management of the industry’s long, complicated supply chains.

This led him to the utecture project with New Zealand-based advanced manufacturing business Donovan Group. He sees an opportunity to bring a digital tool to the industry that will solve real pain points.

Importantly, the company has strived to make the platform as user-friendly as possible so that very little training is needed. The cost associated with training staff to use digital tools has been identified as a barrier to industry uptake of new technologies.  

The pre-construction design technology is offered via a subscription model at around US$250 per seat per month. The platform is also open architecture so that it’s compatible with popular drafting and design software.

The environmental piece was challenging 

The company teamed up with the Green Building Council of Australia and three Australian universities, Monash University, the University of Melbourne and the University of Queensland, to simulate operational energy performance and embodied carbon in the model. Tonnet says this was a “big task” but was tapping into a “groundswell of consumer demand” and regulatory pressure for lower emissions housing.

“Energy performance is usually a post consideration after the design is done and we want to make it a live consideration in the design.”

Tonnet expects people will “do the right thing” if they know what the payback is on their decisions.