Shaderlight helps develop the future of architectural design

Steve Vasilion was the owner and lead designer of Vasilion Architects, a full service architectural firm based in Batavia, Illinois.  The firm was acquired by Prairie Forge Group last November and Steve is now now their Director of Architecture.

For more than 8 years Steve has been using SketchUp to develop his designs but would often have to outsource his presentation quality rendering to ‘professionals’.

The simplicity and affordablily of Shaderlight has finally enabled him to bring photorealistic rendering in house.  Steve believes that being able to produce quality images on a daily basis not only saves him money but offers him an edge over his competition – crucial in a challenging economy.

“People are always wowed by the photorealistic quality that I can now produce.  They are often willing to pay more to achieve this quality, which results in more income for my firm.  They have no idea how easily Shaderlight steps up the quality of my work!”

A true ambassador for 3D design, alongside his day job Steve runs a high school mentoring program where local students, interested in a career in architecture, can develop their 3d design and presentation skills working alongside local business owners and city officials.


Steve customized the program to ensure students were given a realistic view of the architecture profession.

We asked Steve to explain more about the program:

How did the mentoring program come about?  

While running Vasilion, I was contacted by a group called “ACE” ( Architecture-Construction-Engineering), an organization formed to interest high school students in a career in the construction industry.  It was formed in response to a noticeable drop in young adults choosing a career in the building trades.  The ACE program was sponsored by the local contractor’s association who would visit area high schools and enlist interested students.  The students would choose between architecture, engineering, or contracting mentors.  I participated in the ACE program for a couple years until they cancelled their funding for the program.  It was unfortunate: the year they cancelled students had already signed up and were ready to begin the program.  I decided to continue the program on my own.  I contacted the drafting instructors at the high schools and asked them to still send their students.  I then customized the program to fit my interest in providing the students with a realistic view of the architecture profession.

What does it involve? 

I have six students each year, two each representing three area high schools: Batavia and Geneva High Schools and the Illinois Math and Science Academy (IMSA).  The students are all juniors or seniors.  The students meet every Wednesday from September through the following April.  The Batavia and Geneva students participate on their own time, arriving at 5pm and working until 7pm.  The IMSA students earn school credit, arriving at 8:30am and working until 7pm.  The project is hypothetical in that it is not an actual commission.  But the site is real and the program is realistic.  The students have to study the zoning ordinances and city master plan documents.  They analyze the owner’s building program.  They have to interview our volunteer ‘owner’ and volunteer ‘city official’.  This allows them to learn about the different goals of the two entities.  Then they are ready to begin designing.


Projects require detailed planning before the designing begins.

They usually have some experience with Autocad and SketchUp, but none have used a photorealistic rendering program like Shaderlight.  They will periodically meet with our owner and city official to review their progress.  At the end of the year, the IMSA students make a school presentation as part of their final examination.  The entire team also makes a presentation to their teachers, parents, and city officials.  Then they make one more final presentation to the City Council of Batavia.  This provides them an opportunity to work on their presentation skills, which are critical for architects as they attempt to sell and gain approval of their designs. 

Who else is involved in your programs?

My volunteer owner (Austin Dempsey, of Batavia Enterprises, Inc.) actually owns most of the various properties they have studied over the years.  In exchange for him volunteering his time he receives an excellent study of the possibilities that exist for the development of his various properties.  My volunteer city official is an actual zoning or planning official from the City of Batavia.


Students present to their teachers, parents, and city officials.

“Success is determined by exposing the students to as realistic a view as possible of what an architect actually does”

How has the course helped you students? 

The success of the program is not determined by how many students choose a career in architecture.  Success is determined by exposing the students to as realistic a view as possible of what an architect actually does… before spending tens of thousands of their parents’ dollars on a specialized college education.  They have no idea how much planning and research goes into a project before actual design begins.  They have no idea how the architect navigates and negotiates with the city on behalf of the owner.  And they have only a vague idea about how good architecture blends functionality with beauty.

What have your students gone on to do?

About 1/3 of the students continue on in architecture; about 1/3 choose a related field (engineering, landscape architecture, construction management, etc.); and 1/3 want nothing more to do with the profession.  The program succeeds because it either cements a student’s interest and passion for this profession, or reveals to them that it is not the career choice for them.

The course has proved its worth in educating young people in to the intracacies of a career in architecure however when it comes to the software, Steve has been keen to pass on his knowledge of 3d modelling and rendering. 

image 2

Student’s use Shaderlight to gain rendering skills.

Why have you chosen Shaderlight for the course? 

Shaderlight offers the students one more opportunity to express their finished design concept, and also exposes them to one more career option: that of a professional renderer.

The degree of realism that can be achieved is dramatically heightened by Shaderlight.  The sophistication of the shadows, the added depth of material textures and reflectivity, and the ability to add lighting fixtures all enhance the effectiveness of the renderings.

This photorealism provide a great ‘wow’ factor for the students.  When they see their designs come to life, first in SketchUp then in Shaderlight it is very satisfying to behold.

image 1

Shaderlight lets students add realism to their SketchUp models.

Here is an example of one of the student project videos using SketchUp.  More can be seen on YouTube.

Prairie Forge Group is full service Architectural, Design|Build and Construction Management firm, located in St. Charles, Illinois, USA.

About Kate

Commercial Director at Shaderlight Ltd
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