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Welcoming NFT to our Built Environment - AEC Disruption, At last?

John Egan
Co-Founder at aecHive community, CEO at BIMLauncher; I enjoy tech talk about solutions for project collaboration
・3 min read

If your professional existence is in or linked to the AEC sectors or built environment, I believe that a technology has arrived that has the potential to fundamentally change the game as you know it. This article provides a broad overview of the opportunities for NFTs in our built environment.

To start with, let's explore what an NFT is. NFTs are tokens that we can use to represent ownership of unique items. NFT stands for Non-Fungible Token, and this is an economic term you could use to describe things like furniture, a song file or a computer - anything that has unique properties. In comparison to fungible items is defined by their value (e.g gold, currency) rather than their unique properties.

No two building assets are the same and their property sets are unique. This makes NFTs well suited to buildings, and as we have seen with other industries like art and collectables, provides a new representation of the concept of “ownership”, which I am personally fascinated by.

Why does this matter? Our built environment is special to us all. It defines the places we live, work and play. However, the industries that currently support all transactions to do with a building are extremely inefficient, bureaucratic and cumbersome to work with. Same set of stakeholders, overly complicated processes dealing with all things to do with our planning system, our legal system, our land registry system etc. which creates (a convenient?) inertia for real progress. This results in social problems to do with things like no access to affordable housing and an estimated 40% waste which raises ecological concerns - And its not getting better.

For the first time, I see the light, coming in the form of NFTs. I have listed some properties of NFT and identified some paths of least resistance for adoption:

  • The deed representing the building can be minted to an NFT. This exchange could be undertaken by an individual with an existing property or an individual could purchase the building from the traditional property market and be rewarded on taking the risk of handling the transaction to purchase the building to exchange to NFT.
  • An alternative to the “Client/Owner” role on projects: The purchasing power of the market and existing mechanisms such as “initial coin offerings”, I see the potential for a landslide of existing housing stock to be purchased for market rates and upon purchase, minting an NFT as a result.
  • NFTs can support fractionalised ownership. This is called “Sharding” and means that ownership of a building can be shared and the price of each shard remaining equal.
  • An NFT can be operated by a Decentralised Autonomous Organisation (DAO). This DAO would be responsible for the operations of the building, tackling topics such as how revenue created by the building is shared, how spend is allocated on the building and what's really exciting is that a group of people can have partial ownership of a building/asset and make decision making is coordinated securely via the blockchain.
  • The market value of each shard could be used to secure finance from the emerging market of decentralized finance(DeFi).
  • Shards could be traded on marketplaces like binance and other known crypto exchanges e.g NIFTEX [https://landing.niftex.com/]
  • AEC professionals could be rewarded through the use of smart contracts and shards could be a new form of incentive to create collaborative environments due to the future value of their investments.

Part owning a property democratises ownership of our built environment and market places can provide an open place to trade their value but it is not without its challenges, such as:

  • What is the work that would be involved to mint NFTs for housing bonds, and are there known limitations that could cause inertia for individuals?
  • What are the structures and types of relationships that the DAOs would have with the building?
  • What happens to building occupiers?
  • What is the context for each coin? One coin per building, locality, community, region, state or globe?

Due to scandalous behaviour of centralised bodies such as the government and banking systems in recent times, a distrust and decline in support for these organisations have created the context for a Crypto based alternative “boom”. The blockchain offers an unbreakable trust and it resonates with people. I anticipate similar waves of adoption for NFT minting of all parts of the built environment that we have seen with Bitcoin and I am looking forward to the unravelling of this technology onto the market, and the positive impact it could have on our built environment.

Please find the AecHive rooms on Clubhouse where we will be discussing this topic and would welcome your participation.

Discussion (3)

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ralph_arcdox profile image
Ralph Montague

This is interesting John. I attended the "Global BIM Summit" yesterday, and one of the primary concerns that was raised, was regarding "corruption" of the construction sector, particularly in developing markets. "Transparency" was highlighted as one of the key things that BIM & Data could help bring. Design and Construction "contracts" are "transactions" between parties. The building owner (sponsor) purchases elements of design (architecture, structure, civil, mechanical, electrical, envelope, landscaping etc). The design is then packaged as a construction contract, which is purchased by a main contractor, and then sub-divided into multiple sub-contracts for the fabrication, supply, assembly, testing, commissioning and handover of elements of physical construction. For each element of the "physical", there is the supporting "information" (hopefully digital) that describes the physical (how it was designed, how it was fabricated/assembled, how it has to be maintained/operated etc). Maybe the NFT tokens could be associated with the digital data, and that is what is "transacted"? This may encourage the supply chain to carefully manage the "Responsibility Matrix", and Master Information Delivery Plan (MIDP) as a transaction "value" could be attributed to each element?

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bigdoods profile image
John Egan Author

Hi Ralph - The transparency of anything that is minted, can be verified by the blockchain that it is a part of. Minting some digital representation of each physical/digital object in the building is perfectly technically feasible. I am aware of bricktrade.co.uk that is attempting to tokenize the financing of property development ,and I am sure others are working on other aspects of the process too - Hopefully some will be on here and chime in to let us know what they are doing!

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samjpower profile image
Sam J Power

Anybody in the hive know how to make NFT's and how to create a mass market for them in the context of real estate?

I'm aware there is a massive NFT bubble at the moment and that will come to a bust, however I believe an NFT project of this nature has got industry breaking potential and can include all sorts of things such as, identifying ownership and removing money laundering through real estate, efficient deed transfers, estimated ROI, energy rating certifications, and a pile of other non-sensitive building data.

I would love to work on an NFT project like this once the bust happens and I think I'll write my next article on this and dive a bit deeper into the space!