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Beneath the Surface Blog


Thursday Salute to Originals: Designing Illusions

GPI Design - Thursday, September 18, 2014

“Inception” as a noun is defined as a start or a beginning. In science fiction, it is instilling an idea into someone's mind by entering their dreams. In architecture, it is designing spaces that have a suggestion of familiarity, and letting the mind create the rest of the framework.

Although the film Inception has been out for quite some time, it is one of our office favorites. Watching it again this past weekend, it spurred a frenzy of thoughts about the spatial impacts of our current projects and design for entertainment's sake.

The production designer for the film, Guy Hendrix Dyas, was born and raised in London. He received a Master’s Degree from the Royal College of Art in London and a BA from the Chelsea School of Art and Design. He began working in Tokyo as an industrial designer for Sony. He was then invited to work for Industrial Light and Magic in California where he became the visual effects Art Director on a number of films including the most memorable, Inception.

Inception Rotating Room Design

The most complicated and defying architectural structure built on the set of Inception was a specialty corridor to serve as the stage for the fight sequence. The 120 foot by 30 foot revolving space was engineered to create the illusion of weightlessness or zero gravity during the battle. The corridor was constructed of wood and backed by steel tubing. There were seven steel I-beam rings with roller wheels every 16 feet along the length of the corridor, connected to two 55-hp electric motors monitored by a computer to conduct the rotation of the room. A single rotation spans approximately ten seconds and can go both clockwise and counterclockwise.

Inception had many challenging sets to illustrate abstract concepts, opening up glorious design opportunities. One of the visual inspirations in the movie was the Penrose Staircase - steps based on an optical illusion that was referenced in the film. According to the infamous Escher's Drawings, the ever-ascending staircase can never be truly functional in the real world, though this illusion was formed by removing supports and executing clever camera shots.

Inception Endless Staircase Illusion Architecture

Designing for a film set seems to be a stimulating type of design, requiring a delicate balance of both imagination and logic. From a conceptual standpoint, the liberty to simply dream up a setting limited only by your imagination seems like it would be freeing. But when it comes to actually representing that dream in the physical realm, things become much more complex (a pesky little thing like gravity can really throw a wrench in things when trying to replicate a weightless environment!). That’s when the real ingenuity comes in: real-world constraints, clever building techniques, and artistic editing joining forces to capture a fictional world and bringing it to reality from concept through execution.

Kudos to those who take conceptual design to the next level by morphing dreams into reality (and for making some superb entertainment while they’re at it). We salute you!

Sources: Popular Mechanics, Guy Hendrix Dyas, Youtube

Thursday Salute to Originals: Waves of Grain

GPI Design - Thursday, September 11, 2014

Layers are inherent in our creation process at GPI. We meticulously study rippling veins in our naturally formed onyx materials. We artfully craft walls from combinations of structure, lighting, and surface. We stack lighting diffusers to bend light within slim cavities. Much like architecture itself, our perception of layers is linked to ideas of solidity, tangibility, and an additive approach. How often do we get to witness the “un-making” of layers?

In Waves of Grain, filmmaker Keith Skretch poetically captures the destruction of a single wood block. Planing down the wood layer by layer, the grain shifts in organic waves over a three hour period condensed into a few minutes. Secret patterns are revealed in striking images, then sanded to pieces seconds later. The ebb and flow of the imagery is mesmerizing, a choreography only made possible by Mother Nature herself.

Waves of Grain from Keith Skretch on Vimeo

While watching the video entrances the viewer just as much as gazing into a flame or enjoying the ocean waves, it ends abruptly. The pattern suddenly turns to black and the video comes to a hasty halt after all of the wood material has been consumed. We’ll leave this angle open to interpretation... what do you think it could mean?

This Thursday, we salute Keith Skretch for jarring us into thinking about the process of “un-making” at the macroscopic level. Our perception of materials within the building process has shifted, as we imagine how a manmade tool can unravel even nature’s creations, coming undone in a beautiful script.

Source: The Creators Project

Thursday Salute to Originals: Hair Today, Chair Tomorrow?

GPI Design - Thursday, September 04, 2014

Finish selection can be the best and worst part of a project. Finding a material that balances performance and durability while still meeting aesthetic criteria, can be extremely challenging, especially since there are nearly endless options to consider. (It’s difficult for our clients to select the perfect onyx for their backlit features, and that’s only ONE element of a design!) If you’re suffering from finish fatigue or need some fresh inspiration, don’t worry. We have a new material for you to specify on your next project: HAIR.

Human Hair Between Fingers

Yes, you heard us right. Human hair is beginning to make its mark on the map as a legitimate material choice in everything from jewelry, to décor, to furniture, and more.

Sounds pretty disgusting right? Well turns out, while most natural resources are in drastic decline due to booming human population, pollution, etc., human hair is virtually the only natural resource that is actually INCREASING with the rapidly multiplying populace of man. But high volumes of hair aren’t the only perk. Hair is extremely fast at regenerating - 16 times faster in comparison to other materials like wood, for example - and it’s quite strong, too. A single strand can withstand almost ¼ of a lb. (100 grams); now imagine that strength when multiple strands are combined.

Panels Cast from Human Hair

The designers at Studio Swine take us through a video journey through the process of fabrication with hair. In order to transform the hair into a useable material, the strands are brushed, assembled into layers, and then encased with a natural resin. Once hardened, a durable surface that can be cut, finished, and fashioned in a variety of ways is created. And surprisingly, the physical attributes of this end product is quite beautiful. Channeling the gentle ombres and grain-like textures prized in natural materials, the hair remains subtle while providing depth and delicate movement.

Watch the video below to see the full process of how this material is created, from scalp to finished product.

[Hair Highway from Studio Swine on Vimeo]

Now, we’re certainly not saying hair is a material choice for everyone or every design. There are some applications where we can see this as a good fit, and others where that simply wouldn’t be the case. (We personally don’t think it would be very appetizing to dine on a table top made from human hair, for example). For being willing to make an avant-garde material choice, we salute those who embrace human hair as a viable finish - to Studio Swine for bringing this material to our attention, and to the creatives who bravely implement taboo materials to “finish” off their designs.

Sources: Studio Swine, Design Milk, Sacramento Hair Doctor, MM Hair Fashions

Thursday Salute to Originals: Alternative Media

GPI Design - Thursday, August 28, 2014

ARTISTS. Reading this one word can conjure up a number of different thoughts and genres. Some may think in terms of music, others in terms of dance, or even cuisine. But for those of us with design training, we tend to think of artists in the traditional sense, with some of the greats, like Picasso, Pollock, or Warhol, coming to mind.

While these three artists are very different in style and technique, they all share a common bond: choice of medium. These artists (and many others) work[ed] on canvas, paper, and typically with paint, art’s traditional workhorses. However, since art is about expression and pushing a conceived idea to the next level, using alternative mediums can very effectively redefine the meaning of a creation.

Tim Noble and Sue Webster have been working in unique mediums since 1996 when they attended British Rubbish in London. Since then, the couple has been very successfully creating art from what others may refer to as “Rubbish.” But these trash sculptors are exceptional for more than just the fact that they work with garbage. The true beauty of their work is realized in the shadows, with the sculptures casting silhouettes of realistic people, animals, plants, and more. Noble and Webster found a way to take use trash to create sculptures that evoke feeling through the medium alone.

Webster Garbage Shadow Art

An artist’s ability to control the medium they are working with is vital. This is why Erika Iris Simmons stands out as a one-of-a-kind artist. Simmons, commonly referred to as iri5, is a self-taught artist who has always enjoyed working with “strange experimental materials.” The most prevalent of these materials is cassette and VHS tapes. Iri5 removes the tape from these cassettes and shapes them to resemble relevant characters from bands, movies, and shows. For example, a cassette tape of London Calling by The Clash has been repurposed as a piece of cassette tape art depicting Paul Simonon smashing a bass on the ground. Others included a John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction and John Lennon.

Bob Dylan Cassette Tape Art

While painting has been widely used in art for thousands of years, painting with light is a relatively new idea. In 2007, artist Janne Parviainen made a discovery that redefined the way he created his art. While working with long exposure photography, Janne happened to bump the camera. A streetlight in the photo created an interesting “brushstroke” and Janne decided to start manipulating and using light as a brush. He now paints by attaching a series of LED lights to his fingertips and painting in front of an open lens. Janne stated that he believes his work is, “in an interesting intersection of photography and painting". These “light painted” images are not altered through use of computers. They create an eerie and beautiful piece of art that is both unique and effective.

There are many other artists that work in unusual mediums - Dominic Wilcox (tin foil), Scott Wade (dirt on cars), and Maurizio Savini (bubble gum), just to name a few. But while all the artists listed above use unorthodox materials, the effect of their art would not be nearly as compelling if they were unable to harness the unusual medium and use it to its fullest ability.

Whether the chosen medium is typical or off the wall, what truly matters is the manipulation of that material and the quality of the work. And while we’re sure people will continue to ask the difficult question of “What defines art?” even after reading this blog, what we’re hoping to accomplish here is an acknowledgement that the line between art and not is very blurred at best.

So without further ado, we give our most sincere salutes to the artists who dare to distort this line even further, ultimately proving that a change in medium can completely redefine the way art is viewed.

Image credits: Twisted Sifter, Janne Paint, Tim Noble and Sue Webster

Thursday Salute to Originals: Wall Evolution

GPI Design - Thursday, August 21, 2014

The wall is a surface plane integral to architecture. Encloser of space, divider of exterior and interior, delineator of territory, threshold of privacy. The wall is a ubiquitous form, often overlooked for being so utterly commonplace. But taking an x-ray look into a wall section can actually tell quite a history. From ancient masonry blocks to modern lightweight structures, the wall has continued to evolve as a reflection of current materials and construction methods. So what will tomorrow’s walls look like?

Architectural firm Barkow Leibinger built walls of the impending future in this “Kinetic Wall” installation at the 2014 Venice Biennale. Set amongst a constructed timeline of ancient walls through stone, brick, wood, and glass partition, the kinetic walls extend into the utopian future, pointing towards an idealized architecture.

AD Interviews: Barkow Leibinger / Kinetic Wall from ArchDaily on Vimeo

Constructed of two layers of gridded fabric animated by motorized points, the wall ebbs and flows with robotic fluidity. Moving along the wall is an experience in compression and release, activated through real motion. The wall is both massive and lightweight, dynamic in its interpretation and experience.

This Thursday, we salute the under-appreciated wall plane. For being a blank canvas in expression of form, material, technology, or even movement, if walls could talk they would speak for eons. How do you envision the walls of the future?

Thursday Salute to Originals: What is a Photo Worth?

GPI Design - Thursday, August 14, 2014

A picture is worth a thousand words, or so they say. But lately, with the inundation of photography and image-capturing technology around us, photos seem to be a dime a dozen; we don’t even recognize them as special moments captured in time anymore. Sadly, most photos today are worth only one word: apathetic.

When we came across two photo series that actually made us stop and think (in very different ways), we were instantly intrigued. And when we realized that these collections, though vastly different at their core, actually embodied a common message, we were even more enthralled.

Take for instance, the History in Color series of color-restored historical photographs by artist Dana Keller.

Coney Island, New York, ca. 1905

Looking strictly at the black and white original, it's easy to disconnect from the picture; the content seems unrelatable, dated, alien. But when Keller restores these historical photos in full color, she completely alters the perception of the image.

Waldwick Train Station, ca. 1903

The dichotomy of the black and white photo and its color counterpart brings the past to life, abruptly reminding us that history was not experienced in desaturated monotone. The world was perceived just like it is today in bright, vivid colors, textures, and patterns. And often, that simple likeness is forgotten or underestimated. But these photos remove that misconception, and reveal a startling – and vibrant! – connection between generations.

CONVERSELY, the Digital Ethereal project by designer Luis Hernan, reveals something entirely different. Instead of highlighting similarities of the world past and present, Hernan’s photos expose an invisible realm that exits around us, one we can’t see, touch, or directly experience.

Using a slow shutter speed camera and a phone app, Hernan is able to create a visual representation of these covert Wi-Fi fields. The app, which indicates Wi-Fi strength by color, shows signal locations and their respective intensities when captured on film. So not only do Hernan’s photos reveal that are we constantly surrounded by an invisible technological cloud, of which we are blissfully unaware; but more importantly, the photos force us to acknowledge the fact that just because we can’t see something with the naked eye, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Now you may still be scratching your head, wondering how these two polar opposite photo collections relate; what is their common worth? After all, one highlights the past in a revived historical context, while the other displays the advancement of technology in a sci-fi kind of way. But their semblance and value lies not in the subject of the photos. The similarity is really in the underlying message at the heart of each collection: The way in which you perceive a photo at face value, may be vastly different from the reality of how that moment was and is actually experienced.

For providing a refreshing reprieve from the overwhelming swarms of monotonous imagery we’re inundated with day in and day out, we salute both of these thought-provoking series. Hopefully the next time you pose for that selfie, you’ll remember the underlying message of these two collections, and consider the face value of your photo versus its fundamental worth.

Image credits: Dana R. Keller, Peta Pixel

Thursday Salute to Originals: The Crooked Forest

GPI Design - Thursday, August 07, 2014

Nature never ceases to amaze us. Case and point: the Crooked Forest of Gryfino, Poland.

Crooked Forest Poland Bent Trees

Consisting of about 400 pines with a strange 90 degree bend at the base of the trunk, the Crooked Forest is certainly a sight – albeit a bizarre one – to see. But perhaps even stranger than their appearance is the fact that no one really can pinpoint why or how they got this way.

Crooked Tree Trunk Poland Forest

Some believe these trees, planted around 1930, are a completely natural phenomenon, potentially caused by a number of different stressors – a change in gravitational pull, heavy snows, etc. But others believe this peculiar shape was purposeful manipulation by man, potentially done to create “naturally” curved furniture or ship parts. (If man is the culprit, is this intervention a travesty that robbed the tress of their natural form? Or does it simply make man geniuses, guilty of only using their imagination and ingenuity to strategically mold their surroundings to their benefit?)

Bent Trees Forest Nature Poland

Whatever the reason, we’re still intrigued by the odd shape of this forest and the mystery surrounding it. And for that, we salute both Mother Nature and Man. Because no matter which party is responsible for the strange form, the trees stir deep-rooted discussion, wonder, and speculation about the influence of man vs. nature.

Sources: IFL Science, The Mystery World, Slightly Warped

Back to Basics #6: Color

GPI Design - Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Don’t get us wrong, we love a clean, minimalistic space; it can be very calming and clarifying. But sometimes, all the sleek surfaces and white walls can start to seem….how should we put it?... visually sterile? Sometimes lacking punch, personality, and intrigue, the absence of color can start to become boring, leaving us longing for more. At times what you need is a little hue to spice things up!

Here are some examples – both subtle and not-so-subtle applications - that opted to ditch the stark-white style, fully embracing (and flaunting) color as a defining element of the design. How does the use of color affect the design? If the color was removed, would the design still be as captivating?

Bold Color Architecture Interior Design

Image compiled by GPI Design. Individual image credits: Blue Vertical Studio, ArchDaily, Nemotes, Design Boom, ArchDaily, ArchDailyTheCoolHunter

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Submersed in creation day in and day out, it’s easy to become immune to the fundamental concepts at the core of design. Becoming so ingrained in our being, their simple existence registers involuntarily – like we’re running on auto-pilot – and we can overlook their individual relevance in the visual realization of an idea. Overexposure seems to dull our sensitivity.

But considering how impactful these (often unsung) basic theories are to design, we’ve decided to go "back to the basics". In this blog mini-series, we highlight a fundamental design theory and showcase just how important and formative that concept is in shaping the final perception of a design.

Recap of prior "Back to the Basics" posts:

Stay tuned for our next concept the first Tuesday in September!

Thursday Salute to Originals: Childhood Scribbles, Grown Up

GPI Design - Thursday, July 31, 2014

It looks like the end is near... the end of summer that is. While we’re not quite into August yet, it seems signs of fall are already creeping in – slightly cooler breezes, earlier sunsets, and dreaded back-to-school specials are looming. The latter is probably the most daunting. Most of us in the office have been out of school for at least a few years now (some more than others), but we all remember heading back to the classroom with a new backpack and fresh box of crayons, and the definitive end it brought to summer fun.

Luckily, though, we stumbled upon an art series called Kiddie Arts, which has rekindled our back-to-school spirit, and our love for crayons and uninhibited young minds!

Kiddie Arts Telmo Whale Sketch

In a nostalgic stroke of genius, the Dutch artist Telmo Pieper revisited some of his favorite childhood doodles and reinterpreted them as a grown man with a modern set of crayons (aka digital editing technology).

Honoring his childhood creations, the overall silhouette of the animal or object remains unchanged. Telmo then meticulously details the body and background, turning what was once a fleeting adolescent scribble, into a stunning combination of matured presence and childlike whimsy.

But while this series is light-hearted, it has caused quite a deep discussion around the office: What could we generate from our own childhood drawings, looking at them now with fresh, wiser, older eyes? Could those strange kindergarten scribbles be translated into inspiration for a new building façade? Or could that wacky invention we envisioned as a kid actually come to life now with all the advancements in modern technology? Maybe our former, younger selves could impact and reinvigorate our current perspectives? Maybe we knew something back then that we’ve lost touch with now?

Today, we salute Telmo. Not only for validating and reinvigorating childhood creations in a newfound way, but for reminding us that our former selves can still very much influence the design sensibilities and aesthetic points-of-view we hold as established adults.

Maybe heading back to school isn’t so bad after all?

Image credits: Telmo Pieper

Thursday Salute to Originals: Adobe Ink & Slide

GPI Design - Thursday, July 24, 2014

Drawing? Sketching? Doodling? They’ve got an app for that! These days there is an app for just about anything you could think of. New technology happens daily all around us, but when it is geared towards the design process, we might pay a bit more attention. Gone are the days of paper and pencil sketching, or mapping out footprint plans with a pencil and T-square. Adobe has recently introduced its new cloud pen (ink) and digital ruler (slide).

These two tools serve as a completely new way to draw and sketch on the iPad. Both tools can be used with two new apps - Adobe Line, a straight line drawing app (think rulers, T-squares, and triangles), and Adobe Sketch, which is an art app. Even if you wouldn’t consider yourself a designer or artist, you can use the tools and apps to doodle or use the Ink as a regular stylus to navigate around your iPad.



With this duo, Adobe created a completely new way to draw and sketch using current technology. This is an ideal asset for doodles, designing on the go, on-site editing, and so much more. Say you’re out in the field and you come up with an idea…sketch it. Then you have something you need to look up online…use the search engine. I bet your notepad and pen couldn’t connect an idea with background research so quickly!

Today we salute the creators of the Ink and Slide. With new technology options such as this, they are broadening the way in which we are able to practice and execute design in an increasingly mobile culture. These devices may be small, but they pack a powerful punch in bringing inspiration to your fingertips.

Image credits: Design Milk