Scandinavian design is a design movement characterized by simplicity, minimalism, democracy, and functionality that emerged from the five Scandinavian nations in the early 20th century and has flourished across the world since the 1950s. Scandinavian designers are known especially for household goods including furniture, textiles, ceramics, lamps, and glass, but the Scandinavian design phenomenon has more recently evolved into industrial design to influence the likes of consumer electronics, mobile phones, and cars. Are we now seeing the latest iteration of the design movement in our urban landscapes as Scandinavian software companies emerge within the smart cities space?
In November 2020, US-based software giant Autodesk announced the acquisition of Norwegian urban development startup Spacemaker.ai for a reported $240 million. The all-cash-deal was the latest in a string of acquisitions that underlined Autodesk’s determination to drive digital transformation in the infamously antiquated construction sector. Spacemaker brings a little bit of that Scandinavian design ethos to Autodesk’s broad construction software portfolio with a simple yet powerful platform that allows urban developers and architects to plan land developments with advanced design tools and minimal effort.
“Let’s say you’re an urban developer planning a 300-room apartment complex on the coast of Norway. As you map out and design this expensive set of buildings, you’ll want to analyze wind protection, density, living quality, and dozens of other factors. Weighing all these variables is difficult for developers to manage on their own,” says Brett Schafer writing for The Motley Fool. “However, when their skills are augmented with Spacemaker’s rich datasets and simulation capabilities, those site plans can be optimized, with the designer getting advice from the software as they go.”
Spacemaker’s cloud-based software solution utilizes AI to help real estate developers, architects, and urban planners make more informed decisions in the design phases of construction projects. Spacemaker solution “looks over a designer’s shoulder” to augment human intelligence with digital wisdom, allowing users to quickly generate, optimize, and iterate on many more design alternatives than would be feasible otherwise. The result is less human-error and more informed decisions, leading to increased safety, efficiency, construction speed, and ultimately, a better built environment for all.
“It was never our plan, at the beginning of 2020, to sell the company,” Spacemaker CEO, Håvard Haukeland, told TechCrunch. “But when we started talking to Autodesk, who have reached out for a while, we realized they share our vision. And we understood that this can put our vision on steroids and we can really reach that vision much faster. And that’s what drives us, that’s what we want to do: We want to realize our vision and get our offering out in the world, at the hands of millions of architects and engineers and developers”.
Utopian Scandinavian design on US capitalist steroids certainly sounds like a design-force to be reckoned with. Spacemaker grants construction experts the opportunity to apply sustainability from the outset, helping companies design long-term property developments for maximum efficiency, cost-saving, and therefore profitability over their entire lifecycle. By being incorporated into the BIM360 software suite, Autodesk can expand Spacemaker’s product reach to the world while charging a premium for this urban design revolution. Through BIM, Autodesk was already changing the face of construction design, but with Spacemaker they can add a bit of that sustainable, simplistic, Scandinavian functionality.
Scandinavia leads the world for sustainability. Sweden is a leading energy innovator, aiming to supply all their energy from renewables by 2040, where the district of Hyllie has become a trailblazer for energy prosumer culture. Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen, aims to be the world's first carbon-neutral city by as soon as 2025. While 99% of electricity in Iceland is renewable, with 73% from hydropower and 26.8% from geothermal energy. In the smart city sector, the Scandinavian model is driving an emphasis on sustainability and human capital that provides significant scope for eliciting greater innovation and technological development.
Last week, Finnish urban demographics forecaster CHAOS has announced the successful closure of a €1.5m funding round led by sustainability-focused Swedish investment firm Nidoco. CHAOS places the citizens at the center of their cities, enabling urban developers to smartly plan sustainable urban environments that prioritize long-term viability. While urban developers have access to many sources of data, the ability to generate professional insights and forecasting from their data sets has not yet fully matured. The CHAOS platform has been designed to help them forecast trends to support sustainable portfolios that can make cities green and functional places to live and work.
“The world’s urban environments are developing at an extraordinary rate, yet as we have seen, it is essential they remain livable for residents under all kinds of conditions,” says CHAOS co-founder and CEO Natalia Rincón. “This latest round of investment will support our mission to make future cities vibrant places to live by helping today’s real estate investors forecast how they will grow and evolve through true data-driven insights. This will help them build sustainable property portfolios by understanding the demographic demand and matching it with the service supply of each area.”
While Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland face many challenges, just like many other parts of the world, the characteristics embodied by the Scandinavian design ethos of simplicity, minimalism, democracy, and functionality, are all much-needed elements in the world’s most chaotic spaces — our cities.