San Rafael, Calif.–based Autodesk has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Oslo, Norway–based Spacemaker for $240 million. Founded in 2016 by CEO Håvard Haukeland, chief technology officer Carl Christensen, and board chairman Anders Kvale, the cloud-based platform uses artificial intelligence and generative design to help architects, planners, and real estate developers assess the construction potential, long-term value, and environmental impact of a property from the project outset or prior to investment. Through automation, Spacemaker generates site plans and designs that meet user-defined criteria; consider geospatial characteristics, such as terrain, wind, lighting, traffic, and zoning; and optimize for both development potential and land use, according to the company’s website. Users can then quickly iterate on early design and planning concepts ranging in scale from a plot of land to an entire city.
Amy Bunszel, Autodesk’s senior vice president of the AEC Design Solutions Group, says the acquisition will help Autodesk address requests from the architect community for analysis tools that support informed design or outcome-based design. “Sometimes people assume that generative design is all about having 10,000 options that meet your constraints,” she says. “That’s not really what resonates with our architect customers.” Rather, she continues, they want tools that help them make trade-offs and decisions. “We’re viewing this as a platform for us to grow and to create more use cases further downstream in the design process.”
Not surprisingly, Autodesk has been tracking companies working in the generative design and AI space. Bunszel says the company began talks with Spacemaker in early summer about partnering to serve their joint customers before deciding to acquire the startup for three primary reasons. First was the in-house talent. Bunszel estimates 60% of Spacemaker’s approximately 110 employees have technical backgrounds, in disciplines such as data science and software engineering. Haukeland himself holds an M.Arch. from The Oslo School of Architecture and Design, Christensen has a background in computer science and engineering, and Kvale studied business and economics.
The second reason was Spacemaker’s existing roster of clients, many of whom are also Autodesk customers, including Skanska and housing developer OBOS. “For us, it was a good sign that its technology has already been validated and that customers see value in it,” Bunszel says.
The third reason was Spacemaker’s company culture and mission, both of which align with those of Autodesk. “When you acquire a company,“ Bunszel says, "a lot of the success over a longer period of time has to do with the meshing of company cultures and the ability to keep what’s great about a company going.”
As part of the acquisition, all Spacemaker employees will join Autodesk and continue to work from their current location. Besides Oslo, Spacemaker has offices in Cambridge, Mass., Barcelona, Helsinki, Paris, and Stockholm.
Spacemaker’s business model will also stay intact for the time being. “We don’t want to break anything that they’ve been so successful on so far,” Bunszel says. AEC professsionals can continue to hire the Spacemaker team to conduct bespoke, proof-of-concept pilots or license the technology to run the studies themselves. Autodesk customers will not have immediate access to Spacemaker’s technology (unless, of course, they become a direct Spacemaker customer). Autodesk is exploring ways to integrate Spacemaker’s capabilities into Autodesk products, namely Revit and FormIt, in the future and vice versa. Revit 2021 offers generative design capabilities, which can be further customized with Dynamo.
Bunszel does expect the Spacemaker team will need help in scaling its solutions. Having successfully scaled its own cloud solutions in recent years, Autodesk can help ensure that the “resilience, monitoring, transparency, and security” of Spacemaker remain robust as its usage scales, she says.
Autodesk has spent more than $1.1 billion in recent AEC investments, according to Bunszel. Since 2017, the software developer has acquired 13 AEC tech startups, including Plan Grid, Pype, Assemble, and BuildingConnected. With this latest acquisition, Bunszel says, “we’re excited to also expand [beyond] the construction side of things into more the front-end, conceptual design area.”
The transaction is expected to close during Autodesk’s fourth quarter of fiscal 2021, which ends Jan. 31, 2021.
Autodesk is announcing its intent to acquire Spacemaker on the dawn of its annual summit, Autodesk University, which will be held virtually this year Nov. 17-20.
This story has been updated since first publication.