What is BIM?

Building Information Modeling — or BIM as it is more commonly known — is a series of powerful tools used in the architectural industry to combine digital design with the information needed to complete a project, such as cost, siting, and materials. It allows both designers and their clients to visualize a design in Schematic Design long before it is built and fosters collaboration among architects, consultants, and builders.

Since taking the leap from 2D to 3D, our studio has leveraged this new technology to provide beautiful architecture in an increasingly complex building environment.

“It is a joyful experience to imagine our buildings fully-formed before they are built. It is also one of our most serious responsibilities,” explains principal Tim Barber. “As building science grows, new materials are developed, new technologies are explored, and our climate changes, keeping everything in mind is a challenge. We recognized that challenge several years ago and made the decision to use BIM software and hire an expert to develop it.”

One essential way BIM helps us to meet this challenge is its ability to simulate a project site and the surrounding environment at the onset of the design process. This allows our team to understand a project’s location and plan a response to many given forces, including the way shadows cast across the property and how site boundaries implemented by the city might constrain the buildable area and lot use. Establishing this critical information early on helps us meet project timelines and provides both us and our clients with an understanding of their building in their settings as it develops in design.


Sun studies are crucial to designing a comfortable home for our clients. This animation shows the sun’s daily trajectory across the site and how it illuminates different parts of the home at different times of day. This helps us locate key features of the site based on their intended functions and time of use. In this example, we knew that our clients wanted to enjoy their evenings gathered on a patio around an outdoor fireplace, so we located their patio and fireplace precisely where the sun will glow late in the evening. (And since they’ll likely be gathered around/facing the fireplace, the sun won’t be in their eyes.) Designed by project manager Korey Kromm and drawn by design associate Mengying Bai . Sun study animation by Bill Zahurak , 2018.

Sun studies are crucial to designing a comfortable home for our clients. This animation shows the sun’s daily trajectory across the site and how it illuminates different parts of the home at different times of day. This helps us locate key features of the site based on their intended functions and time of use. In this example, we knew that our clients wanted to enjoy their evenings gathered on a patio around an outdoor fireplace, so we located their patio and fireplace precisely where the sun will glow late in the evening. (And since they’ll likely be gathered around/facing the fireplace, the sun won’t be in their eyes.) Designed by project manager Korey Kromm and drawn by design associate Mengying Bai. Sun study animation by Bill Zahurak, 2018.


A 3D model helps our clients understand their home long before it is built. Before BIM, we typically produced hand-drawn renderings at clients’ requests to help guide them through critical design decisions. These presentation renderings took many hours to complete. With these new tools, our imaging is faster and more advanced, allowing us to create rough-yet-realistic images throughout every design phase.


Most of our clients aren’t architects or designers and don’t visualize designs in the same way we do. Enscape is an extremely useful tool that helps us quickly create photorealistic images of a completed project. By providing comparison animations such as this to our clients during the design process, our clients understand how their home will really look, and will often feel more confident in their design decisions. Project designed by project manager Kirk Snyder and drawn by job captain Jim Coyle . Enscape animation by Bill Zahurak , 2018.

Most of our clients aren’t architects or designers and don’t visualize designs in the same way we do. Enscape is an extremely useful tool that helps us quickly create photorealistic images of a completed project. By providing comparison animations such as this to our clients during the design process, our clients understand how their home will really look, and will often feel more confident in their design decisions. Project drawn by job captain Jim Coyle. Enscape animation by Bill Zahurak, 2018.


The most advantageous feature of using BIM is more than just 3D imagery. It helps our team be more comprehensive and efficient in our work than previously possible. Sharing a central model of information directly with our consultants and builders helps us create a more transparent and collaborative working process. Now when we bring on contractors and consultants who also use BIM, we can seamlessly integrate their models into our own. This enables us to significantly reduce the probability of errors, condense coordination time across all trades, and spend more time working with our clients to design homes they’ll love.


A BIM coordination model showing how the many people involved in a project can contribute to its design. Designed by Bill Zahurak , 2019.

A BIM coordination model showing how the many people involved in a project can contribute to its design. Designed by Bill Zahurak, 2019.


What’s next for BIM in our studio?

Looking forward with this powerful new array of tools, we are constantly thinking of ways to improve our architecture for our clients. One capability we hope to have soon will be integrating our client’s needs and requirements directly into the 3D information model. By linking our model with clients’ lifestyle information, we can ensure that our architecture accurately reflects the decisions of the homeowners.

Sustainability has also always been very important to us, and some of the analytical tools that are becoming available are making it easier to understand passive systems such as daylighting, heat gain and reflectance, and positioning our buildings for the best use of wind and other natural climate factors.


Using a program called Vasari, we are able to understand and visualize wind patterns on a site and its buildings at any time in the year. Project illustration by Bill Zahurak , 2014.

Using a program called Vasari, we are able to understand and visualize wind patterns on a site and its buildings at any time in the year. Project illustration by Bill Zahurak, 2014.

A Solar Illuminance Study showing how much direct sunlight a space receives. Project designed by project manager Korey Kromm and drawn by design associate Mengying Bai . Solar illuminance study created by Bill Zahurak , 2019.

A Solar Illuminance Study showing how much direct sunlight a space receives. Project designed by project manager Korey Kromm and drawn by design associate Mengying Bai. Solar illuminance study created by Bill Zahurak, 2019.


Since acquiring these tools we have already begun to enhance both the beauty and clarity of our drawings and documents. One thing we look forward to in the near future is providing real-time walk-throughs of our homes and sharing virtual reality models with our clients that can be viewed remotely at any time.

All of these tools increase efficiency and our visual understanding, and are just the tip of the iceberg for BIM. We’re excited to show you what comes next.