Backed by big names, FLUX boosts data Flow via Interoperability

Backed by big names, FLUX boosts
data Flow via Interoperability

by JONATHAN BARNES, for BuiltWorlds | Sep 23, 2015

NEVER ONE TO SHRINK FROM A BIG CHALLENGE, Google is known for pressing the boundaries of technology in virtually everything it does. Now, the global search giant and a host of AEC heavy hitters have come up with a process tool, Flux, that may soon revolutionize the construction industry, itself.

Developed at Google[x], the firm’s semi-secret research lab outside its corporate campus in Mountain View CA, Flux spun off from the mothership in 2012, aiming to provide cloud-based collaboration tools that help architects, contractors and engineers all to exchange data easier and improve design workflows. Created to smooth the design process overall, it also seeks to alleviate climate change and foster affordable housing solutions for booming urban populations. Ambitious, to say the least.

In development for the past three years, Flux is focused on interoperability, arguably the greatest barrier to any true revolution in inter-disciplinary collaboration. To upgrade interoperability between various construction technologies, Flux works as an interchange point to share project data including architectural programs, analysis models, schematic designs and material schedules. To automate data transfer, Flux plugins work with software including Excel, Revit/Dynamo, and Rhino/Grasshopper. 


The San Francisco-based firm so far has received funding from Google Ventures, DFJ, Borealis Ventures, Obvious Ventures, and Andreessen Horowitz. Flux partners include ARUP, Turner, Surbana, and Gensler. But the firm is still seeking more potential investors and partners, as well. 

FLUX partnerS

Google, itself, remains as an investor in Flux, which currently is in limited Beta release. Many companies have signed up on a waiting list to use the product, but once the full product line is ready this fall, Flux officials say they will remove the list.

A main goal of Flux, which is being developed to be more powerful than its earliest version—Flux Metro—is to improve the sustainability of the built environment. But first things first. 

Flux co-founder Chim

Flux co-founder Chim

“Our focus right now is improving interoperability, and doing that at scale,” says Nick Chim, one of three ex-Googlers who joined with architect Michelle Kaufman to found the company in 2012. At that point, work on the project within Google had already been underway since late 2010. So what problem is Flux intended to solve?  “Many of these design tools only work on a local file system," adds Chim. "The current systems work, but not very smoothly. [So] we’re streamlining how different tools exchange data.”

The firm recently tested a smaller, more targeted version, Flux Metro, in an Austin, TX-based experiment. That test showed the software’s ability to help developers easily navigate zoning laws and permitting procedures. Industry experts across the U.S. and around the world are watching the firm’s progress, and many are impressed.

tying it all together

"The main reason I was initially interested in Flux Metro is because it ties Google to construction technology," says  Lauren Hasegawa, a structural engineer and co-founder of Ontario, Canada-based construction technology provider Bridgit. "Having Flux Metro come into the spotlight, I think, continues to bring more interest to this industry. It has opened the eyes of other [technology] companies to construction, as well."

With Flux Metro, the company built a system where developers can visualize all the building codes of an area in one place. Its system includes data such as building codes, building height restrictions, setback requirements, locations of historical sites and other key site specifications. The system aims to reduce tedious legwork involved in developing real estate and it helps everyone involved in the construction process to maintain a consistent building model, regardless of how new laws or restrictions may morph. “Developers need a better way to keep that model, as things are constantly changing in zoning,” Hasegawa explains. Also, because Flux is so visual, it is much more approachable to developers, architects, contractors and tradespeople. “People like having that visual cue," she adds. 

Even larger than any one project, though, is that over-arching matter of interoperability. The issue is really trending now, notes technologist James Benham, CEO of JBKnowledge, College Station TX. “It is happening more, thanks to groups like COSA (Construction Open Standards Alliance),” he says.

Still, old habits die hard. Many in the AEC industry continue to do much manually, says Hasegawa, who started her business at least in part to upend that status quo. “That manual effort takes a lot of time, and there are so many different stakeholders in construction," she notes. "In the past, our industry has been very siloed; (but) systems like Flux Metro are bringing these groups together.”

Better collaboration between professionals in order to improve design workflows is hard to argue with. But sustainability? Some calloused AEC pros might ask, 'Why should we care about that?'" 

sustainability matters

Sustainability matters because its affects all of us, explains Chim. “Construction consumes a lot of natural resources, and a lot of materials for building are taken from the natural environment," he says. "In operation, buildings consume a lot of our resources. How much of that energy is used versus wasted? It’s actually very high.”

At the end of the day, everything that we do is linked in some way. “We live in an interconnected ecosystem—the actions we take affect all of us," says Chim. "I think a significant portion of the industry is aware of the challenges, and we want to be part of that change.”

We live in an interconnected ecosystem... the actions we take affect all of us.
— Nick Chim, Flux

While the company is determined to be a player in the green, eco-friendly movement now transforming construction, it is just as focused on being an AEC innovator.

“Our data-sharing tool will be broadly available, [and] Revit, Dynamo and Grasshopper users will be able to use it without much help from us,” says Chim. “Our tools help reduce time and frustration in coordinating file transfers and merging data. We think with better data management, architects can recover time to improve design. Our primary goal over the next year will be to grow our user community.”

Part of that growth strategy will need to deal with pricing. The Flux Metro experiment in Austin helped the company better define its goals. Flux’s leaders learned Metro is very useful, but also quite expensive. So now the firm is trying to determine how to make it more scalable, Chim says.

During the past year, Flux has focused even more on improving that interoperability piece that will enable even wider and easier collaboration. “In the time that we’ve spent in this market, we’ve realized the importance of interoperability to help enable this industry to innovate,” he explains.

And if the big names behind Flux are any indication of its market potential, then Chim and his fellow cofounders are certainly not the only ones who have come to this realization.


Based in Pittsburgh, the author is a freelance business journalist who writes about construction technology for BuiltWorlds. A former construction worker, himself, Barnes has worked as a reporter for years, writing stories for ENR, Reuters, Fortune, and other publications.

He can be reached via email at Follow him on twitter at @Barnestormin.


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