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Hazelview makes major investment in AI design firm Augmenta

Hazelview Ventures, with participation from Ferguson Ventures and Whiteshell Group, is investing...

IMAGE: Roger Poirier, co-founder of Hazelview Ventures. (Courtesy Hazelview)

Roger Poirier, co-founder of Hazelview Ventures. (Courtesy Hazelview)

Hazelview Ventures, with participation from Ferguson Ventures and Whiteshell Group, is investing $5.3 million in Augmenta, a Toronto-based AI firm developing cutting-edge generative design technology for the construction industry.

The funds will accelerate the development of the Augmenta Construction Platform (ACP) to enable contractors and electrical engineers to design fully-detailed, code-compliant and buildable designs.

“Augmenta’s technology is a huge step forward for the construction industry and will help stakeholders achieve both cost savings and ESG benefits through waste reduction,” said Roger Poirier, co-founder of Hazelview Ventures, which invests in and partners with early-stage proptech, buildtech, and cleantech companies. “We are excited to be partnered with such a ground-breaking company.”

Hazelview sees enormous promise in Augmenta’s ongoing AI research, whose flagship automated design platform is expected to substantially reduce construction costs, turnaround times, and landfill wastage due to excess ordering of surplus materials.

AI vs. manual design processes

This sophisticated AI technology will provide multiple design solutions in the early stages of the construction process, often within hours, as compared to the laborious process by which teams of electrical engineers can take months to produce manual designs that often come with a high margin for error.

“The construction industry continues to face major challenges due to manual design processes – and is ripe for disruption,” said Francesco Iorio, CEO and co-founder of Augmenta. “We are bringing a massive sea change to the industry by introducing technology that will make the transition from current manual design processes to generative design as fundamental as the shift from pen and paper to computers.”

Toronto-based Augmenta was founded by Iorio and other key members of the Autodesk team that pioneered Generative Design. The firm is focused on developing automated building design applications that have game-changing potential to provide “extraordinary” gains in efficiency in the construction industry .

Added Iorio: “Hazelview is a progressive company on the forefront of change in the construction industry. They immediately understood both the cost and ESG benefits associated with ACP, not only for Hazelview, but for developers across the board. We are thrilled to partner with such a forward-thinking organization.”

Major step in making buildings more sustainable

Once ACP is launched, it will represent a quantum leap over existing AI programmes that are already making buildings more energy efficient. ACP will also provide Hazelview and other real estate developers with greater transparency with respect to use of sustainable materials and more efficient building design overall.

By giving developers AI tools to construct new buildings with fewer resources, ACP will reduce the carbon footprints of buildings during their life cycles.

IMAAGE: Dr. Francesco Iorio, CEO and co-founder of Augmenta. (Courtesy Augmenta)

Dr. Francesco Iorio, CEO and co-founder of Augmenta. (Courtesy Augmenta)

Over the course of the decade, Hazelview Ventures is banking its seed investment will in turn enable it to incorporate Augmenta’s revolutionary AI tech in its own construction projects. Hazelview’s partnership with Augmenta will offer its real estate arm a chance to test, refine and scale the ACP platform at some point in 2023.

This will be merely the first step toward future implementation of related AI programs that will streamline Hazelview’s design and construction processes.

Massimiliano Moruzzi, head of business development and cognitive engineering at Augmenta, stated at a 2020 tech symposium that the company is dedicated to ushering in major advances with respect to sustainability in the construction industry.

“Every one of our solutions has sustainability as a core part of design. Automation, sustainable materials, composites, recycled plastic, energy-saving next generation of batteries, and specific energy distribution and management systems are common features of our applications.

“We aim to deliver true sustainability solutions.

Electrical raceway options and transparency

The short-term promise of Augmenta’s design tech involves providing electrical engineering teams with multiple design alternatives regarding the electrical raceways running through buildings.  These raceways are enclosed conduits that provide the physical pathways for electrical wiring and protect wires and cables from heat, humidity, corrosion and water intrusion.

“Augmenta provides us with the kind of transparency we’ve never had before,” Poirier explained in an interview with SustainableBiz. “Until now, we’ve never really had the ability to discuss design alternatives and identify the best solution for us as the owner.

“Their ACP system is capable of giving you 30 examples of actually buildable generative designs that allows us to look at the scanogram video and choose the raceway path that suits our needs best.”

Hazelview, which manages $11.6 billion in real estate assets, regards its holdings as long-term investments. This means maintenance costs are a critical balance sheet items. Poirier is highly optimistic that Augmenta’s AI tech will more than justify its initial seed investment.

“If we’re going to own the asset for the next 25 years, the cost of maintenance and accessibility (to raceways, for example), that might mean that I’m willing to pay a little more upfront for that Augmenta AI-generated design because it gives me ultimate transparency at a very early stage when all you have is the shell of the building design,” he said.

“We can’t say at this point with any degree of precision what the ultimate cost savings will be for us, but we do believe that there’s an approximate 70 per cent improvement in design time. That time is obviously a major cost and a very important factor when you’re putting up a building. So that’s a very real savings for us on top of the transparency we’re looking for.”

Hazelview currently has four buildings under construction and 11 in its pipeline, including the sweeping mixed-use urban design project (in collaboration with Fitzrovia Real Estate) at Bloor and Dufferin in Toronto. Looking ahead, it is relying on Augmenta to help it design and construct more efficient buildings across all four systems: electrical, HVAC, plumbing, and structural components.

The biggest impact of Augmenta’s ACP could well be on change orders.

Said Poirier: “Change orders is one of the biggest sources of cost overruns owing to unknown factors where you didn’t see something in the original plans. That’s especially true in cases where you suddenly discover midway through construction that have to move the electrical room from one floor of a building to another.”

Augmenta and sustainability

Sustainability is another key element to Hazelview’s partnership with Augmenta and its expectations that the latter’s AI tech can bring about massive reductions in wastage. The ACP design tool will enable companies such as Hazelview to save millions of dollars by providing far more precise calculations with respect to ordering parts and materials.

This will reduce wastage by ensuring contractors only purchase exactly the materials needed for construction.

Explains Poirier:  “When you’re building off of a given design, the final end points are built and designed by the contractor, not the engineer. And so the contractor will bring in the materials it thinks are required for the construction, but along the way it is often the case that not only have you ordered the wrong materials, but you’ve purchased too many of these materials which ultimately wind up in the landfill.

“We believe that Augmenta’s tech will provide important basic savings in that area.”

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