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Beneath the Surface Blog

Thursday Salute to Originals: Oh Say Can You See...

GPI Design - Thursday, July 03, 2014

Tomorrow is Independence Day and we’re gearing up for the colorful fireworks which will be lighting up the skies. Around here, you can’t talk about color and light without spurring a long discussion about translucency and natural onyx… but as opposed to writing a narrative about the intriguing layers of fireworks as compared to natural stone, we decided to demonstrate with photographs. So here you have it – fireworks images matched up with our favorite onyx slabs.

Happy Fourth of July! While your neck is craned towards the sky tomorrow, be thinking about how those wildly colorful bursts could influence your next design.

Image Sources:

1- Gold fireworks image from Tarogold 

2- Petri Brown Onyx image by GPI Design

3- Smoky fireworks image from Gadgil Lab

4- Gray Smoke Onyx image by GPI Design

5- Pink and red fireworks image from BSP

6- Agglomerate Stone image by GPI Design

7- Green fireworks image from Nice Cool Pics

8- Irish Connemarble image by GPI Design

9- White fireworks image from Poke

10- Diamond White Onyx image by GPI Design

11- Pink smoke image from Digital Photography School

12- Fire Red Onyx image by GPI Design

Back to Basics #5: Contrast

GPI Design - Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Opposing elements that contradict and enhance one another can create intense forces, manifesting a tangible tension within. Allowing the design itself to come alive with palpable energy, the pairing of opposites generates an inherent push and pull, impacting both perception of the design and associated experiences.

Take a look at the below examples which have harnessed the power of this design staple. How do the respective contrasting elements alter your mood, perception, or memory of the design?

Examples of Contrast in Architecture and Design

Image compiled by GPI Design. Individual image credits: URDesign, ArchDaily, DesignMilk, ArchDaily, Contemporist, ArchDaily, PhotoShelter, Dezeen


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 the next and final concept at the beginning of August!

Thursday Salute to Originals: Fluffy Forms

GPI Design - Thursday, June 26, 2014

There is no shortage of artists expressing form via dimensional sculpture. And with 3D printing and laser technology all the rage, we’re seeing an overwhelming trend in calculated geometries that warp into complex volumes (as if a Buckminster Fuller structure met Stretch Armstrong). With such an inundation of this trendy treatment of form, the refreshing work of Tara Donovan caught our eye this week.

Tara Donovan creates seemingly “fuzzy” sculptures assembled from mass-produced goods such as index cards or acrylic rods. She builds from millions of these building blocks to create organic landscapes – ones that appear like rock formations or molecular explosions but are simply formed from these rather mundane materials.

The artist’s pieces are a welcome reprieve not only from the digital technology creative culture, but are also pointedly different than our own work. In cladding various architectural planes with our backlit surfaces, we are nearly always building a flat plane that comes alive through layers of rich, organic patterning. Panels fall into line within rigidly calculated structural systems. Complex natural materials are fabricated into simple, flat rectangular forms. When brought to life with light, patterns and veins emerge, jumping across the feature in lines of animation. There is an element of restraint as organic materials are tailored to manmade geometries.

In contrast, Donovan’s work fuses simple and inexpensive materials into complex forms. Her pieces rely on mass and volume to draw the eye, focusing more on the resulting shape rather than the content of the individual pieces. The sculptures represent accumulation and assembly, exploding with energy as manmade objects become organic forms.

Today we salute Tara Donovan for exploring the entirely opposite side of the coin – that which gathers commonplace items in quantity to expand and complicate space. Donovan’s work will be on display at Pace Gallery in NYC through August 10, 2014. If you visit the exhibit, drop us a line and let us know your reaction to the sculptures! How do they relate to or depart from architectural design?

Sources: Pace Gallery, CollabCubed

Thursday Salute to Originals: Select Your Scribble

GPI Design - Thursday, June 19, 2014

The world of design is brimming with new developments in up-and-coming technology, product launches, and the next big ideas. Take the Scribble pen, for example. Any Photoshop devotee would be thrilled that the “eyedropper” tool has come to life, meaning that you can use the pen to grab a color from any real-life object and draw with that exact color. Move over Pantone swatches, this is instantaneous matching and finite control at its best!

With over 16 million hues and a programmable memory, the Scribble pen is admittedly awesome, certainly attracting a deserving share of hype. And it can be easy to get swept up in the bells and whistles of gadgetry, we know. (Let’s just say that the day we installed our on-site time-lapse cameras wasn’t exactly the most productive in history). But can this type of instantaneous and exact control actually weaken our relationship to those colors, textures, and materials which cannot be bridled?

A common reminder in our office is to take our eyes off the computer screen and back to the hard and true materials. Our surface materials are usually of the natural kind - rings of wood or layers of onyx formed over thousands of years. And while those characteristics can be shifted to some degree - you can tweak appearances and aesthetics with a lighting design change or framing method – those natural qualities are never simply repainted or redefined with an electronic paintbrush. Sure, the Scribble pen is a magic wand of an instrument that can open up creative possibilities, but it leads us to think there may be such thing as too much control over those possibilities.

Natural Pattern in Backlit Onyx Materials for Feature Wall

In creating backlit onyx and wood features, we navigate the concept of control through the design process almost every day. Without prepackaged sample boxes, SKU numbers, or catalogs of options, we hunt for unique translucent wood and onyx materials by traveling straight to the sources at which they were formed: the forests and quarries. Though is not always easy relinquishing the grasp when dealing with natural materials, interior designers and architects who specify translucent wood or onyx surfaces take the leap of faith that we will find a material in Mother Nature that meets their vision.

Backlit Wood Natural Texture Illuminated

Once we find the perfect material, the colors, textures, patterns, and inherent layers formed into the materials are workable only through changing the panel sizes or optimizing the best portions of material. There’s no editing involved, no magic eye drop tool that can ensure a Pantone-exact color match, no clone stamp that allows us to magically delete a vein running through the center of a panel. We simply work with Mother Nature and mold it using our artistic inclinations; it all comes down to a natural and human element which no machine can dictate. We can’t always select our scribble, and that constraint sets off a series of chain reactions that result in true originality.

Today, we salute the creators of the Scribble pen for not only harnessing one very cool design tool, but also for challenging us to think about how convenient technology can potentially limit more traditional forms of art. Because after all, there is creativity and ingenuity at the heart of every new invention. But it’s our responsibility as designers to keep that control from inhibiting our imaginations and ultimately, our figurative and actual scribbles.

Are you a designer working with natural materials? How does the process challenge your inherent role as a designer, to control and specify to a fine degree? How can technology affect the process of working with natural resources?

Sources: Inhabitat

Thursday Salute to Originals: Urban Sketching

GPI Design - Thursday, June 12, 2014

What we consider to be art is constantly changing. On an individual basis we may be more open to what that term encompasses. However, as a society, we can sometimes be unwilling to understand and accept a piece as an artistic work. Abstract art, for example, is at times discredited and not seen for what it truly is: Art.

Society can be strict about the definition of art.  In reality, art is defined as, “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” Urban sketching is a prime example of an art form that is underappreciated.

The concept is very simple; however, to master the technique takes practice. Urban sketching involves a sketchbook, a scene, and a creative eye. While many forms of art, such as realism and romanticism focus heavily on details and depicting a scene with complete accuracy, urban sketching focuses on something more than literal visuals.

One area which urban sketching focuses is capturing the feeling of the scene. It searches for a way to make the viewer feel the emotion and even the physicality of the sketched area.

Campanario Urban Sketching Art

Urban sketching also focuses on human interaction. The artist picks out interesting patterns of motion and exciting people. He or she shows the way the people interact with others, as well as the space and architecture around them.

Rolf Schroter Urban Sketch Streetscape

And finally, urban sketching focuses on general form. Rather than convey specific details, the sketch attempts to gather all of the massing information in a scene quickly. This gives the viewer a general suggestion of the scene without taking away from the focus of sketching.

Since about 2007, urban sketching has become wildly popular. It was popularized on Flickr by Gabriel Campanario. He started by posting his urban sketches on the site and over time, his Flickr became popular enough that he decided, in 2009, to start the Urban Sketchers - a casual group that gets together to recreate interesting areas, people, and structures through sketch. Now there are hundreds of Urban Sketch groups all over the country.

Being an Urban Sketcher is a way of life. In the below video The Life of an Artist –  Adebanji Alade talks about how hard he has worked to get to the urban sketching skill level he is at currently. He preaches, “Draw, draw, draw, and draw to be happy.”Hours of work go into developing an individual style of sketching.

The Life of an Artist - Urban Sketcher, Adebanji Alade from Urban Sketchers on Vimeo

This sketching style create one of a kind art pieces that may never grace the wall of any museum, but does this make the results any less "art"? That is for you to decide.


Sources: Urban Sketchers, The Art of Urban Sketching, Vimeo Urban Sketchers, Gabriel Campanario on Flickr, Oxford Dictionaries

Image credits: Rolf Schroter, Seattle Times, Urban Sketchers, Culture Vixen

Thursday Salute to Originals: Original Imitation

GPI Design - Thursday, June 05, 2014

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And that sentiment is often true when it comes to humans. We mimic ideas, styles, attitudes, and more, all the time. But when it comes to the animal kingdom, imitation isn’t about staying trendy or cool. Imitation is sometimes the difference between life and death.

Take the caterpillar for instance. Smaller than a vast majority of its fellow creatures, the odds really aren’t in its favor for survival from a size standpoint. Because of this, some caterpillars have adapted chilling spines, venomous fur, or stinging barbs and bristles to ward off enemies. But a couple caterpillar species have taken a different approach: they have blatantly copied another creature’s appearance.

Hawkmoth Caterpillar Snake Disguise

This is going to be hard to believe, but no, this is not a snake. It’s actually the Hawkmoth caterpillar’s clever serpent disguise.

Caterpillar Mimic Snake Pattern

When threatened, the Hawkmoth caterpillar puffs up and flips over, revealing an underside of markings that bear a striking resemblance to a snakes head. (If you look closely, you can see the caterpillars legs folded between the “eyes” of the snake.)

But the Hawkmoth isn’t the only caterpillar who mimics snakes. The Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar has also taken a cue from the serpent.

The faux eyes and yellow highlighting around the edges make the top of the caterpillar’s body look just like a snake, a stern warning to any predators thinking about downing it for a snack. The Spicebush Swallowtail will even rear its body (or the “head” of the snake) up to further enhance the illusion.

Now normally, we wouldn’t call the “stealing” or mimicking of another’s appearance original. Copying at its very core is the antonym of original, after all. But this case of imitation is different.

What amazes us most is how both of these caterpillars have genetically adapted their bodies to mimic the appearance of another creature, right down to proper “eye” placement and coloration. Different than just using patterning, texture, or hue to camouflage INTO their surroundings, the Hawkmoth and Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillars have managed to manipulate their bodies to stand OUT from their surroundings as a completely different animal. And they have even adapted their defensive behaviors to further mimic the actions of a snake, further enhancing this illusion of actually perpetrating another creature! (Try as we might, there’s no way we as humans can naturally transform our bodies to look like Brad Pitt or Scarlet Johansen, unfortunately.)

And for those very reasons, we salute both the Hawkmoth and the Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillars for their original take on survival and imitation. We’re sure the snakes are quite flattered, too!

Image credits: Daily Mail, AnimalWorld Tumblr, Marietta

Back to Basics #4: Texture

GPI Design - Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Ever read a sign that says “DO NOT TOUCH” and immediately have an urge to feel the forbidden object? The phrase almost becomes a challenge, rather than a prohibition. It’s so tough to resist!

That’s because tactile experiences are so essential to our being; we’re hardwired to touch and feel everything around us, forming understanding and cataloging information from that tactile sensation. And since we co-exist with design and architecture every day – from the chair you sit in at your desk to the door handle you pulled to walk into the building – it’s no wonder that texture is an absolutely essential component to our understanding of design and space as a whole.

Check out some of our favorite designs where texture stars as the feature act of the show. We bet in person we couldn’t resist the urge to touch!

Basic Design Principles Texture in Architecture

Image compiled by GPI Design. Individual image credits: Jose Miguel Hernandez, A solas contigo, Philips, Kika Reichert, Freshome, Dwell, ArchDaily, Flickr


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 the next concept at the beginning of July!

Thursday Salute to Originals: Icy Illumination

GPI Design - Thursday, May 29, 2014

Working as custom designers and builders, we’re used to being up against challenging conditions on our projects. Hurdles such as a demanding schedule, a tricky surface, or a remote jobsite are common in our work, and half the fun is overcoming each one as we move from design through construction. But even after jumping through all those hoops (and sometimes nearly pulling out our hair!), the ultimate reward is when we can finally stand back and admire the backlit feature in all its glory; each project is truly a labor of love. So in drawing from our own experiences, we couldn’t help but empathize with what a feat two photographers managed to accomplish with a little ingenuity, patience, and an unwavering vision.

For an automobile advertisement image shoot, Russian photographers Dmitry Chistoprudov and Nikolay Rykov overcame extreme conditions to illuminate a frozen lake. Yes, you read that right. These two masterminds transformed a body of water into a glowing surface.

As you can imagine, this task didn’t come without its own unique set of challenges. For starters, the sheet of ice they indented to backlight was quite thick. In order to illuminate the fissures within the ice, Chistoprudov and Rykov had to partner with local fisherman to dig into the 1m (3.28 ft) thick ice surface. Once a hole was created, an underwater high output light source was carefully inserted beneath the ice and put into position.


But challenges didn’t end there. The fishermen digging the hole had worn spiked shoes and trod all over the surface. This left distracting pock marks across the ice. So the dedicated photography duo went to work using water and scrubbing down the surface to remove the blemishes, making it immaculate again. Chistoprudov and Rykov lamented that they spent hours beautifying the surface prior to capturing the image.

After all the hard work and unexpected hiccups, the creative team finally achieved what they set out to do. The result: a glowing plane of ice with an unexplainable energy. The final imagery portrays the ice as sleek, glassy, and powerful - fitting qualities to sell an automobile. And it was all done in a budget of only $140! (Though does anyone else think the setting is more fitting of something a little more luxurious than the fairly typical four door sedan pictured? We could easily envision this as the backdrop for a souped-up sports car or even as a high-end fashion runway!)

The illumination of cracks and fissures in a natural material, and the random issues Chistoprudov and Rykov had to resolve on the fly, really tugs on our heartstrings here. Their project reminds us of the unpredictable beauty in our onyx panels, those energetic natural characteristics that come to life when backlighting is introduced. And the amount of hard work, constant dedication, and improvisation they endured throughout the project reinforces our belief that all the unexpected challenges really are all worth it in the end. For harnessing the energy of nature, illuminating it in all its glory, and never wavering from their vision, we salute these warm-blooded photographers!

Image credits: The Creators Project

Thursday Salute to Originals: Parking Garage Pizazz

GPI Design - Thursday, May 22, 2014

Ever notice how some spaces seem to get forgotten (or downright ignored) in the design world? Like the proverbial ugly stepchild of design, places like gas station restrooms and public building stairwells rarely get the time of day, let alone any extra TLC from a keen design eye. In fact, it seems most of us cringe at the thought of having to inhabit either of these – or any of those other forgotten places - for too long. (Don’t worry, we feel the same way!) So we were quite pleasantly surprised when we came across another overlooked structure – the parking garage – finally getting some well-deserved design attention.

Take the design of the Eureka Tower Car Park in Melbourne, Australia for instance. While its concrete structure is relatively run-of-the-mill, what really makes this parking garage memorable is the inventive signage.

Parking Garage Graphic Design

Designer Axel Peemoeller created ingenious way finding graphics that morph depending on your perspective. When viewed at just the right angle, large, clear signage appears, easily directing traffic within the garage; no circling around the garage endlessly just to find the down ramp here. And when seen from other angles, the signage functions more as funky, abstract art, giving the parking garage an unforgettable, yet functional, personality.

Graphic Wall Design at Carpark in Australia

Or consider this parking garage in Detroit’s former Michigan Theater. Abandoned in the 1970’s, the magnificent Michigan Theater, clad with crystal chandeliers and gilded cherubs, was slated to be demolished. When it was determined the demolishment would compromise the structural stability of an adjoining building, plans changed, and a parking garage was built smack dab in the interior of the theater.

Historic Building Parking Garage Renovation

Michigan Theater Parking Garage Renovation Architecture

Though a little unusual to say the least, this parking garage is certainly more interesting and - dare we say it - beautiful than other fellow parking lots. The adaptive reuse of this once glamorous theater makes stowing your car an unforgettable experience steeped history and former grandeur of the 1920’s.

And last but not least, take a peek at the Museum Parking Garage by Rawcut in the Swiss city of Lucerne.

Parking Garage Yellow Wall Graphics

In an otherwise unremarkable space, the bold silhouettes of iconic automobiles instantly bring the garage to life. Not only do the graphics provide an interesting and interactive way finding solution (it’s much easier to remember you’re parked at the VW Bug than spot 3-C-583), but it makes parking an almost personal experience, with each slot boasting a distinct character.

The take-home lesson here is that with a little consideration and ingenuity, even the most devoid and seemingly uninspiring spaces can become a beacon for innovative design. And with that in mind, we salute those who used that very philosophy to make the above parking garages possible. And we further tip our hats to all those who see the dynamic potential in the most unforgotten and unloved places everywhere! Let’s hope a revamp of those gas station restrooms is next!

Image credits: Graphique Fantastique, Urban Ghosts, Krunkatecture

Thursday Salute to Originals: SlingsHot Simplicity

GPI Design - Thursday, May 15, 2014

We love when we’re caught off guard by those “why didn’t I think of that?” design moments. They don’t happen often, but when they do, we’re left scratching our heads, wondering what other everyday objects we could improve with a simple tweak in design.

Samir Sufi Tea Cup SlingsHOT Product Design

With our affinity for straightforwardness and caffeinated beverages, it’s no wonder we fell so quickly in love with the Tea Cup SlingsHot. Through a slight alteration to the handle, a new and practical function emerges, solving an annoying problem without compromising the integrity of the mug. All you have to do is pull the tea bag back like a slingshot to squeeze out every last drop of tea, then the bag stashes in the elegant compartment until later. No extra spoon. No messy puddles. No soggy teabag to dispose of. Seriously, why didn’t we think of that??

Tea Cup Slingshot Design

While we realize the mug isn’t solving any major world issues or humanity crises, the revamped design does exemplify the powerful impact of mindful rethinking. And without the use of electronic technology to enhance the design (no weird buttons to push, nothing to plug in, no apps to download), the utter simplicity of this mug’s solution to a problem really speaks volumes. And for that, we salute the Tea Cup SlingsHot. Now if someone could just figure out a way to automatically refill the water reservoir in our office coffee machine, we’d be set!

Source: Design Milk