Interviews

Published

Meet the architects shaking up the construction industry using virtual reality

10 Mins

Ackroyd Lowrie is an architectural firm “specialising in transforming run down urban areas” into “inspiration places to live and work”, in the words of one of the co-founders, Oliver Lowrie.

The business relies on technology to set itself apart from the competition – it models its environments in 3D and uses virtual reality to immerse the client in their project.

We caught up with Lowrie as part of our Black Cab Entrepreneurs series, to find out more about the business.

Here’s what he had to say:

What is your company’s impact on UK/global market? What do you want your business to be remembered for?

So far, we have won awards for our pioneering design process which uses virtual reality to allow our clients to walk around our design proposals and “sign-off” the building long before a single brick is laid. We have published white papers on how offsite construction is about to transform the way buildings are delivered, and regularly speak about future trends in cities.

In everything we do, we seek to deliver more value to our clients through better design, and simpler processes. The construction industry is due a shake up, and we are the architects aiming to do that. However, it all has to serve the overall purpose of creating an inspiring world, and this can only be done through putting good design first.

What is your business model?

We charge fees for our services. Like most consultants in the construction industry, this is usually calculated as a percentage of the construction value, and then fixed into a flat fee for an agreed set of deliverables.

How do you measure success? 

Architecture is a competitive, and relatively un-profitable industry, and the fact that our business is, and always has been profitable is a success in its own right. However, most architects are driven by a greater purpose than money, which explains why the industry tends to be so poor. For myself and my co-founder, we have always been driven by the need to change an industry that has not changed much since medieval times.

The UK has one of the most inefficient construction industries, and some of the greatest cities. If we are to deliver the cities that our future generation deserves, then we need systems in place to ensure that the places we create are well designed, well-funded, well executed, and ultimately well-loved by the users. This is what great architecture is.

Do you plan to trade globally, enter new markets, etc. in the next 12 months? 

We have doubled our turnover each year since 2015, and plan to do the same this year. This year we are focusing on doing this through in increase in revenue per capita, rather than significantly increasing our team. We would like to enter global markets as we are horrified by the prospect of Brexit.

How did you fund your business? 

We have never been in debt, and we started our business with two laptops in a mate’s pub in East London. We used the money from our first invoice to get some desk space, and a printer. We now have a wonderful office and 12 young superstars working for us all in the space of three years.

What technology does your business absolutely rely on and why?

As I mentioned earlier, we now have a sign off process for every project which involves a virtual reality walkthrough for every client. Not only has this differentiated us in a crowded market, but it has also improved the quality of the output for our clients.

Last week I met with a fund director for a pension fund who are enlarging some of their assets, and during the VR sign off, she realised that there was a view that would benefit from being more prominent. We were able to redesign the scheme before we submitted planning to deal with her request.

Where do you see your business in five years? Where do you see your industry then?

We have a very clear five-year plan that we have developed with Mads Jensen, our non-executive advisor. We want to be designing a £50m cultural/commercial building at the centre of a masterplan that we also designed.

To get to this target, we have proximate targets- so next year we know we need to complete the £6m cultural/commercial building that we are currently working on, and gain planning for the 3000 home masterplan that we are working on in East London. This will allow us to then secure a £10-20m cultural building next year, and so on…

The Construction Industry should be embracing more offsite construction techniques by then, and we hope to be leading the charge, which is why we have written a white paper on the topic.

What is your greatest business achievement?

Winning the award for our design process was very satisfying, as it validated our belief that it needed to be done better and VR was the obvious way to do this. However, my highlight is when I come back into the office to review a design, and our team has produced something better than I could have designed – that’s my highlight.

What was your biggest entrepreneurial mistake (and how did you overcome it?) 

I spent the first two years being harsh on myself and harsh on the team around me. I realised I was doing this when we did a 360 review of ourselves as directors with a business coach. I try now to focus on having fun at work and being less of a bulldog, and this has improved the atmosphere and output of the office.

What would you tell your younger self?

Stop being so hard on yourself and others.

Your policy wish list: What do you want to see from the Government in an ideal world? 

  • Reverse Brexit
  • Ban lobbying
  • Get rid of 12 month AST rental contracts.

What is your biggest piece of advice to other entrepreneurs?

Get a non-exec, a coach, a sales coach etc. etc. All the money you spend comes back to you in multiples. Roger Federer has seven coaches and he is the best tennis player the world has ever seen. If he has seven, you should get at least one.

What is your guilty pleasure, a vice, hobby or side-project you indulge in?

Karaoke.

What would make you a better leader?

Being more organised.

The one app you use the most?

Podcast App.

A day in your life: What is your daily routine and why?

I like not having daily routine, but if I had to do anything regularly it would be swimming – it calms me down and makes me remember that we were all born naked, and iPhones are the devil.

On your reading list right now, what is the number one must-read leadership book for entrepreneurs?

I really like anything by Daniel Priestly – he cuts through the bullshit like no-one else. He is one of our (many) coaches.

On your watch list right now, what is your favourite film/TV series that has inspired you in business?

I love podcasts, and Startup is absolutely amazing. It’s a podcast series about a guy starting a podcast series – meta.

Share this story

Cyber attacks are inevitable – it’s how you respond that counts
How to prove your brand is worth investing in
How to prove your brand is worth investing in
Send this to a friend