Online platform offers low-cost architect quality design

Online platform offers low-cost architect quality design
Brian O’Brien: Just 8% of those building single new or family homes can afford to engage an architect.

Single houses represented almost 1,100 out of a total of 4,275 of new dwellings in the first quarter, according to CSO figures.

While we all aspire to have a well-designed home, the majority of self-builders don’t engage an architect because of the high cost.

The result is a decline in building design standards.

That’s a problem Opoplan’s founder, Brian O’Brien, has set out to solve.

Mr O’Brien, who has over 20 years of experience as an architect, has come up with a platform where users can buy architect-quality designs at a fraction of the cost of a professional service.

The start-up has a subscription service for builders, while direct customers can buy a customised design.

Opoplan’s initial primary market focus is the 70,000-plus custom home builders in the US. The company attracted its first customers this February at the International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas.

Feedback from the event was overwhelmingly positive. Mr O’Brien says: “We can’t finish it fast enough for them. Two of them are already subscribing every month, even though we’re still in beta”.

Builders pay a monthly charge for a stock plan or online plan service which includes framing drawings, building information models and a manual change service.

While Opoplan has competitors in the US and Europe that offer house plans, these platforms allow the user to make the most important decisions about their design.

Mr O’Brien says Opoplan differs with its approach.

Customers know what they want, but they don’t know what’s possible, so they might spend €2,000 on a design from houseplans.com and find the plan is too big or the wrong shape for their site, he says.

With Opoplan, the architectural analysis is built into the software’s design selection and customisation. While the customer provides a detailed brief, the skills of an architect make the most important decisions.

He describes Opoplan’s experience as an in-depth brief-taking, which is a lot like going to an architect.

The platform has a library of seed designs provided by architects, who get a share of revenue of up to 20% and employs Google Maps to analyse the site — its size, slope and orientation.

The customer provides a brief by answering questions on the platform. The 20-minute exercise builds a comprehensive profile, and the system generates a preview of the design in 3D, which can then be customised.

A lot of our genius is in the software which takes what architects do, systemises it, speeds it up and adjusts a series of seed designs which come from architects to suit your site and your brief, and whether you like modern or traditional.

The “game-changer” for Opoplan is that you can go in and walk around your new design, he says. The user can go back and make changes to their brief and continue until they’re happy with the preview, before proceeding to buy the products.

Direct customers pay around $2,000 for the basic product, which includes a set of architect design drawings, builders layouts and unlimited access to the online 3D Explorer.

Additional products include CGI renderings, movies, soft copy files of the drawings, and a format that allows users to 3D print a model.

Designs are close to being architect quality and they’re customised differently each time, he says.

However, Mr O’Brien explains that using Opoplan is not the same as going to an architect.

If you can afford to go to an architect, you absolutely should.

However, he says that just 8% of those building single new or family homes can afford to engage an architect. For the remaining 92%, Opoplan is the next best option.

Opoplan received investment from Enterprise Ireland to build and develop its software and has since spun out as a private company and is seeking further private investment.

The team, which also includes business development and marketing director and co-founder Grainne Kennedy, is currently developing an augmented reality app which will allow the user to view the design at real scale on the site from a phone or tablet.

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