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This architecture firm is making up to $300,000 per project to design real estate in the metaverse

December 9, 2021, 6:45 PM UTC

Unbeholden to the tangible world, an influx of digital landowners in the metaverse are dreaming up creative projects to spice up their property, and a new wave of virtual architecture firms are popping up to realize those visions…for a fee.

The metaverse, an interactive form of the internet that reflects the physical world and includes shopping and entertainment, has received outsize attention in 2021, as large corporations including Microsoft and Meta (formerly Facebook) have started to invest billions in the new space. Over the past few months, attention from investors has been focused on a digital land grab in particular, which has seen plots on platforms like the Sandbox and Decentraland sell for as much as $4.3 million.

Along with those real estate sales, a new question has emerged: What do you do with a piece of digital land after you buy it? One company, Voxel Architects, turned that question into a business and has designed about 40 digital buildings this year, working with clients like Sotheby’s auction house and ConsenSys Software, the creator of the popular crypto wallet MetaMask. 

In June, Sotheby’s unveiled its first-ever virtual gallery on the Decentraland platform. The building, a replica of its New Bond Street Galleries in London, is open to all users, and a recent exhibit featured art by Banksy and Bored Ape Yacht Club, an exclusive community of NFT owners. Voxel designed both the virtual gallery and the virtual exhibits. 

Voxel Architects designed a gallery for Sotheby’s that mirrors its gallery in the physical world.
Courtesy of Voxel Architects

Whereas architecture projects in the real world may be limited in their scope because of manpower, money, and physics, nearly anything is possible for buildings in the metaverse. For the Bored Ape Yacht Club exhibit, Voxel took the entire second level of the digital Sotheby’s gallery and turned it into a swamp filled with the project’s trademark primate. When ConsenSys was looking for a metaverse headquarters for hosting virtual events it hired Voxel to build one, complete with a Roman amphitheater and a floating bar. When it was celebrating MetaMask reaching 10 million users, it hired Voxel to redecorate and add a forest in the middle of the Decentraland-based building. 

Voxel Architects designed a virtual headquarters in the metaverse platform Decentraland for ConsenSys Software, the creators of the MetaMask crypto wallet.
Courtesy of Voxel Architects

“You kind of have to combine what you know about architecture, and what you know about gaming, and create something new out of this,” said George Bileca, chief design officer at Voxel Architects.

The process for designing and developing land in the metaverse works much like it does in the real world. After a request is sent to the company, Voxel sends a questionnaire to the client asking them to detail what they want. After giving the client a quote, employees start to sketch and create iterations of what the project could look like. With input from the client, the architects finalize a design that they send to a 3D modeler, who adjusts it for the physical limits of a particular metaverse platform, like the size of a digital parcel. A developer at the company will then take the design and code functionalities like the ability to open doors or operate elevators before a review and the final launch. The average project takes about a month from concept to launch, Bileca said, although more intense projects can take longer.

“In an architecture firm, you have the architect, who is designing, you have the builders, who are physically there and building the structure, and you also have the engineers who are calculating the structural integrity of the structure,” Bileca said. “While the engineers don’t exist in the same way, they are replaced with developers.”

Bileca, who studied automotive and transport design at Coventry University in the U.K., formed the partnership that would become Voxel Architects in 2019 with his business partner Leandro Bellone, who is now CEO of Voxel Architects’ parent company, NFT Studios.

The two men started designing digital meeting spaces and art galleries after building an NFT car dealership in the metaverse platform Cryptovoxels two years ago. Their car dealership design got people’s attention and helped them find clients. Voxel Architects has now grown to a 20-person team, with three architects, one concept artist, and 12 3D modelers. Although it has been about 10 months since the company officially formed in February, it has seen an influx in inquiries for projects since Facebook rebranded to Meta and said in October that it would commit $10 billion to its metaverse division. 

“Sometimes life just throws things at you and you just gotta catch them,” Bileca told Fortune.

While before the company got about 10 requests for design quotes per week as recently as four months ago, that number has jumped to nearly 30 per week, said Bileca. The price of a project can range from $10,000 to $300,000, said Bellone, depending on the scale, the number of functionalities included, and the time needed to build it.

“It’s sad to say but COVID accelerated growth a lot because people didn’t have any other option than to immerse themselves in virtual worlds,” Bellone said.

Voxel Architects is facing increasing competition from freelance designers and a handful of emerging metaverse design companies. Bileca said there are more than 20 design businesses he knows of, all trying to take advantage of what investor Cathie Wood called a potential multitrillion-dollar market

The company wants to double its staff by the end of next year and is planning to take the real-world designs of brick-and-mortar architecture firms and adapting them to create virtual twin structures in the metaverse. 

“Now the metaverse is expanding,” Bileca said. “Everybody wants a virtual build. Everybody wants to get in the metaverse.”  

Fortune’s upcoming Brainstorm Design conference is going to dive into how businesses are building experiences in the metaverse. Apply to attend the event on May 23-24 in New York.