The difference between Planning Configurators and Design Configurators


Planning Configurators

The fact that Autodesk acquired Spacemaker is no longer news.

The difference between planning configurators and design configurators 1
Let's think a little about
why now, and why Autodesk. Autodesk is a company that has a wide variety of different products for all possible AEC directions, but they didn't have a Planning Configurator before the actual deal.
So why now? The answer is simple - such tools did not exist before; they began to appear along with the aggregation of data around cities.
The first planning configurators and their founded dates:

All these tools have something in common - they all work more or less with market context, site context, and planning context. We can also say that they are all 'market aware', 'site aware' and 'planning aware' (each to a different degree).
Let me explain further what this means (the sources below are mostly from the UK market):

Context Consideration Source / Tool
Market Context What are the residential values in the area? Rightmove Sold Prices / Zoopla Sold Prices /
Land Registry Sold Prices
What are the commercial values in the area? CoStar / Zoopla / Rightmove
When did the seller buy the site, and for how much? Land Insight / Nimbus Maps / Zoopla / Rightmove
Site Context

Where is the site? Google Maps / Bing Maps / Urban Intelligence
What is the nearest train station and how far is the walk? Google Maps Directions
Urban Intelligence (API request)
What is the site boundary? Land Registry Title Plan / Land Insight / Nimbus Maps / Testfit
How big is the site? Promap / Land Insight / Nimbus Maps
Is the site vacant or occupied? Google Maps / Urban Intelligence
Is there a long lease on the site? Land Registry Leasehold Title Register /
Nimbus Maps / Urban Intelligence
What is the site currently used as/what was the last use? Google Maps / Urban Intelligence
What can I get on the site (massing)? E.g. how many residential units Promap / VU.City / Spacemaker / Archistar / Testfit / Prism-app / Kreo Modular
Measurement tools, e.g. distances to neighbouring dwellings Promap / VU.City / Spacemaker / Archistar / Testfit
Planning Context

Which borough is the site located in? Land Insight / Nimbus Maps / Molior / Urban Intelligence
What is the Public Transport Accessibility Level (PTAL)? TFL website / Urban Intelligence
Does the site have any planning history? Council’s Planning Portal / Land Insight / Nimbus Maps
Are there any recent nearby planning consents? Land Insight / Nimbus Maps / Molior / Urban Intelligence
What is the site’s planning designation/allocation? Council’s Proposals Map / Land Insight
Are any of the buildings locally listed or statutory listed? Local Lists can be found on Council’s websites e.g. Statutory listings can be found on the Historical website
Does the site lie within a flood zone? Government flooding website / Urban Intelligence
What is the Local CIL rate? Council’s CIL Charging Schedule, e.g. Southwark
Do the site match sunlight/daylight and other requirements (view corridors)? Shading nearby properties? VU.City / Spacemaker / Archistar
What about noise pollution? VU.City / Spacemaker / Archistar
Building Context
Mixed-use program (retail, offices, amenity), the target number of units, residential unit mix? Testfit / Kreo Modular
Construction method? Connection to the supply chain? Kit of parts? Pre-manufacturing? Kreo Modular
MPG (Miles Per Gallon) and nZEB (Nearly Zero Energy Buildings) calculations -
Precision manufactured housing (PHM) Kreo Modular / Prism-app
Building regulations and design requirements (fire safety, span tables, loads, max number units per core, NIA/GIA) Kreo Modular

As you see, besides Planning Configurators themselves, there are a lot of other sources of data. The difference between Planning Configurators and other data sources is that the Planning Configurator produces massing models taking into account the data itself.

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Clearly, it is pretty detailed massing: each unit / flat / apartment is equal to a polyhedron, the master plan has roads, green zones, etc. Also, the tool calculates different metrics around this particular site: developable site ratio, GFA (gross floor area), etc.

A couple of further comments about Planning Configurators:

  • Prism-app is the first open-source Planning Configurator (compliments to UK government for financing it)
  • Prism-app is the first Planning Configurator connected to the supply chain ('prefab aware'), which is also unusual for a Planning Configurator
  • Testfit connected well to the site context (roads configurator is absolutely amazing). The parking and multi-family building concepts are speedy and flexible

Among all Planning Configurators, Testfit is the best from the side of building concept implementation. It is not about polyhedrons just stacked on top of each other. There is a building topology. Moreover, there is a mixed-use building topology. Thus Testfit is closer to Design Configurators than others. Look at this:

The difference between planning configurators and design configurators4

Over the years, the tools above have evolved and came to the optimal jelly mould.
Autodesk Revit was founded in 1997, and Autodesk bought Spacemaker at the end of 2020 because the time has come. 💁🏻‍♂️

Design Configurators

However, even the most advanced Planning Configurators don’t cover Building Context (see the table above). In my opinion, to be a real Building Configurator, you need to work not only with topology but also with the kit of parts. Here are examples of such tools:

  • Kreo Modular - 2020 (crunchbase link)
  • Ice - 2005 (it is more close to Production Configurator software, but this is the next point)
  • A lot of firms try to create their Design Configurators internally (they are all doomed to fail, they need to hire us 🤓)

I can tell you a lot about Kreo Modular because my gang and I created this product. But I promised myself to be brief.
Kreo Modular automates building concepts. There is one key point: all the parts we use to configure a building within our platform need real prefab elements.

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This is why we use the Lego comparison to explain better what we do and how it works, and this is why we have integration with .rvt and .ifc formats.
The Kreo Modular user flow goes through the map, too, although we don't use a lot of contexts (only daylight / sunlight calculations) to generate a masterplan:

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We will not cover the market / site / planning context because others pretty well cover it (and it will be better and better). Thus we are looking for cooperation in this field with the data providers.


To make the difference between Planning Configurators and Design Configurators even more transparent, let’s describe the end-users of products:

Planning Configurators

  • Property Developers
  • Planners
  • Real Estate Agents
  • Architects

Design Configurators

  • Architects
  • Cost Estimators
  • Business Developers
  • Technical Sales Engineers

 Architects are the key! 🗝

Here is a simple industry landscape and a data flow for Planning Configurators and Design Configurators:

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The world has not yet seen the configurator that takes into account market, site, planning, and building contexts.
Thanks for reading! ♥️


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