In June 2022, Architizer was acquired by Material Bank, the world’s largest marketplace for architectural, design, and construction materials. Material Bank’s acquisition of the platform represented an exciting new step for Architizer. Currently led by CEO David Weber, Architizer was founded in 2009 by Alex Diehl, Matthias Hollwich, Marc Kushner, and Ben Prosky with a mission to help architects build better buildings, better cities, and a better world.
As it embarks on this new path forward, Architizer will remain grounded in the central values that it was founded upon. For this reason, we are using this momentous occasion to look back on the founding of the company. In this four-part series, we ask each of Architizer’s founders to reflect on foundational philosophies and to share stories about the early days of the platform.
In this interview, we sat down with Alex Diehl, Angel Investor, Design Entrepreneur and Senior Advisor to the Max-Planck-Institutes’ CyberValley in Tübingen/Stuttgart, Germany.
David Weber: What other projects were you working on when you co-founded Architizer?
Alex Diehl: At my digital design agency in Berlin, KKLD*, we were building some of the UX/UI for BMW’s innovative mobility services, DriveNow, the car sharing service and ChargeNow the electric vehicle charging app which both became very successful in Europe. We were also building innovative digital products for Bayer — an early generation of health apps.
What was the original goal of Architizer?
Matthias had seen some of the work we had done where we had built an online networking tool for clean energy mobility enthusiasts. Whilst we were working together on a different project he brought up the idea of building something that would enable the global community of architecture talent to connect and essentially associate themselves with the projects they are involved with. “Tag” talents to projects so to speak.
How did your work at KKLD inform your work on Architizer?
I had built my innovative design firm with Stephan Laemmermann, and from the beginning we were always focusing on building digital products and user experiences that would enable people to have “real” lives. Utility in digital products, simplicity and user engagement was something we really strove to constantly optimize in all of our work. We also had learned quite a bit about audience building around specific verticals. Social media had just entered hyper drive with Facebook and Twitter taking off massively. All these learnings and methods we applied to building Architizer as a product to empower architects, and Architizer as an audience that grew fast.
What did you learn about architects in your first product interviews with architects?
We set up lead user interviews and a workshop with various architects from different firms — often friends of Matthias, Marc, Ben, and my wife, Nora (also an architect) in Manhattan at Matthias’ place. We presented them with some of our mock-ups to gauge if this would provide any utility for them and quizzed them around their general needs in their professional daily lives. I learned that whilst architects are a very analytical and creative audience, and whilst they were using many digital tools for their work, they had not really taken to the internet yet as architects and there was no clear conception how the internet could benefit their profession.
What precedents did you look to when you were designing Architizer?
We had built a few topical communities at my design firm for sports, dating and mobility — thus many learnings came from work we had been doing over a few years. Also you shouldn’t forget that earlier social successes such as myspace and Friendster had established some web design standards around tagging interests etc.
What problems were you looking to solve with the first version of Architizer?
Essentially build the “Archigraph” — digitizing the real connections that all find confluence in a built project. From talent to material, location, culture, social discourse and commentary. Back then, we thought we could digitize all of the Archisphere at once… a bit of a lofty goal at the time I suppose. Plus, I wanted to do a project that my wife would be interested in 😉
What KPIs were you looking at when you were tracking the success of Architizer?
User growth, engagement of content, participation in competitions, quality of tagging re projects, products. We quickly learned that discourse between individual users would not be the main engagement driver. We learned the main engagement driver was architects self-publishing great displays of their work and the audience seeking out, consuming, sharing that content for inspiration.
What early milestones were you most proud of?
I think when OMA, BIG, DS&R, ShoP came on the platform and others realized this was getting traction, and we saw the user growth accelerate a few weeks after soft launch — that was really exciting. And the fact that people would share and comment on quality content in an eager way.
What is your favorite memory of the early days of Architizer?
2 favorite memories: Before and after the launch party at Storefront for Art and Architecture. Before, there was no one on the street, we were just a bunch of people who thought we had built something fun but no one would probably care about it. 1 hour later the street was filled with architects and design professionals senior to junior, famous to student, hanging out at our party and tweeting about it. That’s when I knew this could work.
The second was a product workshop at the hotel Bauer in Venice outside on the terrace with the Architizer design team to iterate the next releases. Don’t ask me why at that hotel (we weren’t staying there, we were a start up), but overall seeing at the leading architecture festival in this historical city that is so offline, discussing the future of architecture through digital, and the global Architecture community hanging out around town…that was quite special. And interesting juxtaposition. I also remember we all checked out Tadao Ando’s Punta Dogana renovation afterwards. Again an interesting juxtaposition.
With a decade of perspective how might you have designed Architizer differently originally?
Identify the core utility in a sharper way and then enable the audience to access it through every device for that utility. Grow the utility road map over time as the platform /audience relationship matures. Although, there is some elegance to the site just celebrating Architecture for Architecture.
What do you think of Architizer becoming part of the Material Bank family?
I think this is great — a perfect match for us, and I think Material Bank has cracked the model to provide very high utility to architects and manufacturers through an online/offline service in perfect convergence. Brilliant execution and laser focus on that core value prop. Plus a way to monetize as a win for all sides involved. Very well done.
What are you working on now at Cybervalley?
We have built the largest research ecosystem for AI and next generation robotics in Europe around the Max-Planck-Institues and the participating Universities in Germany. I am applying my learnings as a UX/UI and design entrepreneur and investor to foster the next generation of startups and spin offs out of this excellent deep tech cluster. At the core of my work it’s always about the interface / or better relationship between human beings and a machine (computer, tablet, robot, mobility device, house etc.). AI will make the interaction so much “smarter” and more fluid and the next generation of UX/UI’s will be so much more seamless than what we were building 10+ years ago. That’s exciting. Also, I really like to work with teams that try to bring real value rather than society getting lost in a virtual world completely.
Where do you think there is the most potential for future ventures in architecture and design?
Sustainability: buildings contain a lot energy being built and they consume a lot of energy running. This is well known but considering where we have to go as a society we’re really far off. The design and specification process in order to optimize for sustainability whilst not forgetting individualization — people like to live in and with their character.
Mental health and buildings: I think architecture can really drag you down, but it can really lift you up and enrich your everyday live. Now making the architectural experience meaningful for a majority of people at a low carbon and energy footprint: what a challenge. But also what an opportunity.
Top image by of Poppin
The post Building Foundations: Cofounder Alex Diehl Reflects on Architizer’s Past appeared first on Journal.