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Beneath the Surface Blog

Thursday Salute to Originals: Changing Perspectives on Peace

GPI Design - Thursday, October 03, 2013

Peace Day, which was on September 21st, has already come and gone. But even though it was a couple weeks ago, we couldn’t resist highlighting this amazing installation that is not only visually stunning, but one that emphasizes the need for peace in a moving and perspective-altering way.

The Fallen project, developed by Sandinyoureye (a UK based group specializing in elaborate sand and ice sculptures), took place on Peace Day, where hundreds of volunteers gathered on Arromanches Beach in France to embark on a mission.

Working within a tight window between tides, Sandinyoureye organizers and volunteers hastily stenciled silhouettes into the sand. Meant to serve “…as an example of what happens in the absence of peace”, the astounding 9,000 stenciled forms represent the number of civilians, German Soldiers and Allies that perished during the Normandy Landings of WWII on June 6th, 1944.

The simplicity of the sand as a canvas is underscored by repetition and the sobering quantity of the shadowy outlines. We salute the Fallen Project for creating an overwhelming reminder of the consequences of war and conflict, which is so often, too difficult to quantify and comprehend until you can see it with your own eyes.

Image credits: The Fallen 900

Thursday Salute to Originals: Bubbles

GPI Design - Thursday, September 26, 2013

New material samples arrive to our office on a daily basis. There’s always some up-and-coming or innovative surface, and if it’s translucent, you can bet we’re itching to see it! As we were unwrapping this latest set of samples from their bubble wrap casing, we started thinking...

Bubble Wrap Texture Close Up

Bubbles, those little air-filled pockets, do quite an impressive job at protecting some pretty substantial things when utilized in packaging. But inspiration from bubbles extends further than just packing material. These little guys have fueled creative verve for designs like Alexander O.D. Lorimer’s [ch]air and the infamous Beijing National Aquatics Center (aka "The Water Cube").

Bubble Chair Water Cube Design

So what it is about bubbles that makes them tick? Well turns out, there’s quite a bit a science behind these little vulnerable floating orbs.

Bubbles, at their core are basically, a thin layer of soapy water filled with air. Air is forced into the solution expanding the film outwards creating a unit – the bubble (no big revelations there). But things start to get a little more interesting when you dive a bit deeper.

The spherical shape of a bubble isn’t just by chance. No matter the shape in which it originally begins, a bubble will always try to become a sphere because it reduces surface area, therefore, taking the least amount of effort to maintain (so not only are bubbles delicate, but they are lazy, too!).

Blowing Bubble Formation

An even more interesting is what happens when bubbles collide. When touching, bubbles begin to reorganize and redefine their geometry, merging their walls to reduce the overall surface area. If the bubbles are the same size, the adjoined wall is flat. When two differently sized bubbles combine, the smaller bubble bulges into the larger. And when more bubbles join the party, the walls start to merge at 120° forming hexagonal patterns, similar to that of a beehive.

Soap Bubble Patterns Colliding

For striking a delicate balance between aesthetics, science and childlike whimsy, we salute bubbles for their originality. We’re sure they will continue to inspire for generations to come!

Image sources: Westsell, Design Milk, Cumbu, Wikimedia, Highered Watch, CDN, Mentrepreneurs

Thursday Salute to Originals: Motor Mood

GPI Design - Thursday, September 19, 2013

A bumper sticker is a big commitment. Plastering a message proudly on the back of your vehicle for all to see, bumper stickers allow drivers to express a lot of personality in a small area. So what happens when, in this fast-paced world, you change your viewpoint and want to update your car accordingly? This new invention allows you to change your bumper image as often as you change your Facebook status.

Motor Mood Bumper Sticker Smiley Face Lights

Much like a social media status update for cars, “Motor Mood” is a series of emoticons on your rear window that can be turned on and off at the touch of a button. The smiling, winking, and angry faces can be activated depending on your mood at the moment.

As MotorMood advertises, “Having a good day? Display the happy. Some jerk tailgating? Show your anger. See someone cute in the car behind you? Give them a wink. With MotorMood, driving becomes a little more human and a lot more fun." The expressive faces are made with backlit screens tied to remote control buttons in the sun visor.  In this case, technology is humanizing. MotorMood promises to release more faces to capture the plethora of moods one might want to express while cruising down the freeway.

The social media technology of Mark Zuckerberg meets the automobile era of Henry Ford? We salute the originality, and we’re surprised nobody has thought of this before!

Image credits: Yanko Design

Thursday Salute to Originals: A Guide for the Unlucky

GPI Design - Thursday, September 12, 2013

It may be no big deal that today is Thursday, September 12th, but as soon as the clock strikes midnight, warnings of Friday the 13th superstitions will be flying everywhere.

So what can this unlucky day mean to the design world? Artist and illustrator Kyle Bean created “A Guide for the Unlucky”, a 3D pop up book that illustrates situations that superstitions suggest we avoid. As the reader flips the pages, black cats cross the path, umbrellas open inside a house, mirrors break bringing years of bad luck… the luck worsens with every page. Drawing on the concept of a children’s storybook, Bean infuses black and white graphics with clean text to elevate this message to a high-design level.

We salute black cats, umbrellas, mirrors, and we have even walked under a fair share of ladders out on jobsites... but tonight we are sleeping with our fingers crossed and a lucky horseshoe under our pillow!

Thursday Salute to Originals: Not Street Smart, Smart Streets!

GPI Design - Thursday, September 05, 2013

Cars and their technology are constantly evolving. Though we’re not zipping around in spaceships quite yet, with all the futuristic features available today, it often seems like vehicles aren’t far from morphing into something straight out of the Jetsons. But while there are constant advancements within the vehicles themselves, not much attention has been paid to the paved blacktopped strips on which they maneuver. Until now that is.

Daan Roosengaarde and Heijmans Infrastructure have teamed up, taking on a different approach to the future of travel. Instead of focusing on what we’ll be driving, they have taken a step back to consider what we’ll be driving on. In analyzing how a driving surface can impact and improve the commuting experience, they’ve opened a new dialogue on how we can design our streets to be smarter and more sustainable.

By implementing relatively simple and universal concepts – things like visual cues of light and color - Roosegaarde believes that we can make roads “smart,” where they can actively adapt and respond to driving and traffic conditions, and then communicate that information to drivers.

For example, utilizing a type of glow-in-the-dark medium to line the roads could potentially increase safety at night as the glow would help outline and predict the curvature of the roadway.

Or a dynamic paint that changes with temperature and weather conditions could be used to visually signify hazardous driving conditions to commuters.

We’ll admit, our modern highways are still miles away from the dirt paths that once used for travel. But now, after seeing these concepts for smarter streets, we can’t help but wonder - why didn’t anyone consider this before? We’re guessing it might be a simple case of not being able to see the forest for the trees.

Thanks to Daan Roosengaarde and Heijmans Infrastructure for this fresh perspective on the future of travel, and for (inadvertently) reminding us to take a step back from the details and maintain an open mind and broad perspective.

Image credits: Studio Roosegaarde

Thursday Salute to Originals: The Fruit Fly

GPI Design - Thursday, August 29, 2013

There is usually a bowl of fruit in our office kitchen, and last week we have been so busy on deadlines that we forgot to throw it away! Good thing we caught it in time, the fruit made it to the compost pile just as we spotted a fruit fly buzzing around. It got us talking today, what’s the deal with those pesky little bugs anyways?

Fruit Fly Bananas Cartoon Sketch

The fruit fly is one of the smallest and most determined little creatures around. With an arguably bad reputation, we wanted to turn the tables and explore what's so cool about the fruit fly. Only 2 to 5 millimeters long, fruit flies can travel over 6 miles per day in search of food. Following their strong sense of smell (up to 3/4 mile) to wherever red wine or rotting bananas exist, the insects slither through cracks in screen windows or doors.

The lifespan of the fruit fly is remarkably short. “One mathematician calculated that, given their size (< .25 inches), the number of eggs laid by one female, and their life span, a single pair of fruit flies could, over the span of one year, produce a mass of offspring that, were they all to live that long, would form a sphere whose diameter would fill the space between the Earth and the Sun”, according to Daily Kos. Talk about critical mass!

Fruit Fly Insect Wings Spread Translucent Wings

With such a short life cycle and possessing large chromosomes, the fruit fly is often used in scientific experiments related to heredity. Scientist Thomas Hunt Morgan dedicated much of his experimental career to studying the chromosome patterns of fruit flies. describes, “by painstakingly examining thousands upon thousands of flies with a microscope and a magnifying glass, Morgan and his colleagues confirmed the chromosomal theory of inheritance: that genes are located on chromosomes like beads on a string, and that some genes are linked (meaning they are on the same chromosome and always inherited together). One of his students, Alfred Sturtevant, created the first ever genetic map, a landmark event in genetics."

The fruit fly may be a hardcore partier as well. Studies show that female fruit flies will find respite in alcoholic places when threatened by a wasp - the alcohol is toxic to the wasps but not to the fruit flies (they must have a high tolerance!). And when a male fruit fly fails to mate with a female, he may seek out a fermenting fruit to fill up on alcohol - nursing his heartache, perhaps?

A cunning, compact, and remarkably short-lived creature, the fruit fly is considered a nuisance to most. Today, let’s take on a new perspective and appreciate this little bug for its strengths! Next time you're singing "shoo fly, don't bother me!" at the fruit flies, keep in mind how far that hungry little bug might have traveled to land on your kitchen table.

Sources: WiseGeek, Daily Kos,, Thinking Fountain, NPR

Thursday Salute to Originals: Pareidolia

GPI Design - Thursday, August 22, 2013

We like to consider our projects works of art, especially when it comes to selecting and perfecting the surface (or face) of the backlit project. There are truly endless arrays of translucent surfaces that we can implement into our backlit systems, and each will “speak” differently to every client. No one has the same interpretation.

And when it comes to the natural stone used in our backlit Dura-Lite™ panels, that sentiment certainly rings true. Sometimes the more you look at a particular slab of onyx, the more it will express and reveal. You might even start to see familiar forms, shapes, and silhouettes emerging from the sweeping colors and swirls of Mother Nature’s creations. Like finding animals in clouds or seeing the man in the moon, that same phenomenon of pareidolia - where you’re mind convinces you that there is a recognizable and significant shape or form in an unrelated stimuli – takes place when looking at natural stone.

Below are a few of our favorite examples of pareidolia in the natural stones we work with. See if you can spot the forms, too!

Can you see the pink flamingo in the swirls of this slab honey-colored onyx?

Honey Onyx Flamingo Pattern

Or what about the dancing girl hiding in the undulating colors of this exotic green onyx panel?

And there is a screaming monkey in this rare onyx variety. See if you can spot him (this one is hard to miss!).

So is it Mother Nature planting surreptitious messages into her stunning works of art, or is it just a simple case of trompe l’oeil? Whatever the cause, we love how onyx always seems to speak to us – even if the message is only a screaming monkey.

What other forms can you find hiding in these onyx slabs?

Thursday Salute to Originals: Locksmith > Architect?

GPI Design - Thursday, August 15, 2013

Greenwich Locksmith Original Facade

As the owner of a small locksmith shop in the West Village of NYC, Phil Mortillaro wanted to differentiate his storefront. Approaching an architect years ago, Mortillaro posed the challenge, "what can I do with this place? It looks like any building on Queens Boulevard, I'm proud to be an American, I'd like you to make this a real American building."

In response, the architect proposed a traditional design complete with columns, pediment, arched windows, and a cupola to top it all off. For a 125-square foot space, the façade design could certainly be described as overdone.

Architectural Drawing of Proposed Facade Design

Though the architect's design was approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission and full funding was in place, Mortillaro decided to forego the design, stating “it would have been more Disney World”. So what did the small shop owner do next? Staying loyal to the building he has spent over 40 years in, Mortillaro unlocked his hidden creativity and created the façade redesign all by himself. He spent an entire month cladding the exterior of his shop entirely in keys, creating swirling patterns with deep texture. The photos speak for themselves, the surface effect created by the keys is raw, contextual, decorative, and industrial all at once. We can’t help but admire this seasoned tradesman for his rebel spirit (one that probably leaves architects gasping – he didn’t listen)!

Greenwich Locksmith NYC Key Facade

Old Keys Surface Layer Texture

Old Key Swirl Pattern

Detail of Key Facade

Today we salute Phil Mortillaro for taking matters into his own hands and creating a truly unique façade surface! In this case, homespun treatments inspired by extreme dedication are more compelling than any formal architecture could ever be.

Image credits: Scouting NY, Greenwich Locksmiths

Thursday Salute to Originals: The Rolling Pin Reimagined

GPI Design - Thursday, August 08, 2013

Food prep isn’t normally renowned for its place in cutting edge design. While there are plenty of gadgets and gizmos present in modern day kitchens, they are typically geared toward making things faster, easier, and tastier; appliances usually aren’t admired for pushing the boundaries of design.

However, Masters of Interior Architecture & Retail Design (MIARD) students at the Piet Zwart Institute are working to change that perception by (simply) bringing aesthetics into the culinary world, making cooking a literal art. Using seemingly unrelated media to expand and apply their design theory, students took one of the most tried and true (and relatively unchanged) kitchen appliances – the rolling pin – and completely reimagined its design.

Stamp Design on Rolling Pin Modern Update

Using lasers to cut intricate patterns and designs into the rolling pin itself, the once simplistic kitchen staple is now turned into a giant stamp, effortlessly imprinting modern design into cuisine. Simple traditional use of the rolling pin allows the dough to come alive with texture and pattern. Any cook is instantly turned into an artist; the rolling pin is their brush, the dough is the canvas.

However, aside from the visual appeal, one of the most intriguing things about this redesign is that the function and operation of the rolling pin remain virtually unchanged. In keeping with the appliance’s traditional use, the artwork is applied via the same familiar method of operation: just push and roll. The customary craft is kept intact, while still affording a refreshing and more visually stimulating aesthetic.

Thoughtful and impactful design doesn’t have to be complicated or involve a complete disregard or departure from the original form. Innovative design can elevate and modernize, while still emphasizing traditional form, function, and feeling.

Image credits: Altered Appliances

Thursday Salute to Originals: Simulated Lightning (Harnessing Mother Nature’s Fireworks)

GPI Design - Thursday, August 01, 2013

As we’ve been scouring our favorite design blogs and websites lately, we’ve begun to notice an emerging trend making its way into art and installations. Not a specific material or design motif, but rather a more intangible and seemingly unharnessable energy. A natural phenomenon in itself, it seems to have not only caught the eye of the design world, but is now being replicated and emulated in various forms inspired by its inherent striking beauty – both literally and figuratively. And that phenomenon/trend is (drum roll please)….lightning.

Simulated Electrical Storm at "Giant Serpentine Pavilion"

One of our favorite examples of lightning-inspired art is the Giant Serpentine Pavilion produced through a collaboration of architect Sou Fujimoto and United Visual Artists. Assembled from hundreds of interlocking steel poles and latticed metal, the structure covers 3800 sq. ft. in an intricately dense, yet openly geometric structure. But while the form and patterns created by the structure are interesting enough in and of itself, the pavilion really comes alive when the lights go down, allowing the thousands of embedded LEDs to pulsate and scatter like bolts of lightning streaking through the night sky. The intermittent and randomized flashing makes this structure seem as if it encapsulates an electrical storm itself, even though the effect is completely simulated.

Sou Fujimoto Serpentine Pavilion Intervention from United Visual Artists on Vimeo.

Simulated Lightning at "Incandescent Cloud" Installation

Another one of our favorites is the incandescent CLOUD by Canadian artists Caitlind r.c. Brown and Wayne Garrett. Using thousands of light bulbs – over 6,000 in fact - activated and deactivated by traditional pull strings tugged by visitors within the exhibit, a randomized flashing effect is created. Not only is this installation interactive, allowing patrons to harness the power of the “lightning” by turning off and on various light bulbs at random intervals, but it allows what would normally be a static installation to breathe new life with every passing patron and crowd. There is no pre-programmed timing or sequence of flashes; the installation ebbs and flows with the visitors; the flashes of illumination are organic, much like natural lightning.

CLOUD: An Interactive Sculpture Made from 6,000 Light Bulbs from Caitlind r.c. Brown on Vimeo.

For us, in both of these projects, the most intriguing element is just how authentic this simulated lightning appears. Different structures, different light sources, different forms of control and modes of operation in each, yet both applications elicit and provoke a similar appearance and experience, making you feels as if you are actually watching Mother Nature put on her famous fireworks show.