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Beneath the Surface Blog

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

Thursday Salute to Originals: Sketching with a Band Saw

GPI Design - Thursday, May 08, 2014

What are your favorite tools for sketching? A fine-tipped black Micron? A svelte mechanical pencil? Most drawing items are compact enough to stash in a few inches of space, but rarely is a power tool considered as a drawing instrument – especially one as imposing as a band saw.

Wood Carving Cityscape by McNabb

James McNabb sketches cityscapes using a distinct method of shaping wood with his own choice of “drawing instrument”. Using a band saw, McNabb repurposes scrap wood into buildings ranging from 3” to 16” tall. The monuments are assembled into larger pieces, organically taking shape into cityscapes and skylines.

Instead of stretching across a flat horizon in traditional skyline fashion, these groups are then turned upside down as tables or morphed into circular forms. McNabb describes that he did not set out to create city scenes; he rather serendipitously began cutting into scrap wood and soon found that as a collection, the forms took on the familiar shape of the NYC skyline he loved to observe as a child growing up in a New Jersey town. The sculptures are decidedly an outsider’s view of the city, focusing on the massing and profile of buildings from a bird’s eye perspective.

Carved Skyline Wood Table by McNabb

Cityscape Skyline Wood Art Bandsaw

McNabb’s sculptures are at once ordered and unruly, general and detailed. The mass of the city is all-consuming (perhaps in reference to urban sprawl?) and while inspired by the artist’s background, carries no formal reference to certain cities. With the assemblage of forms triggering associations to the city in general, the viewer is then invited in to examine the details – How was it made? How does each piece relate to the whole? What does it mean?

As frequent sketchers, sticklers on quality and craftsmanship, and lovers of wood materiality, we have great respect for those – designers, artists, or novices – who are able to separately incorporate these into their design processes and finished products. But McNabb presses the envelope further by combining unorthodox tools, artistic methodology, and classic materiality into one streamlined and sophisticated entity. Performing as a uniquely charged tandem, McNabb melds destructive power tools, fleeting sketching, and natural wood into a wholly expressive piece that embodies meaning in every nook and cranny. In this “city full of splinters”, we salute every interpretation and inspiration that the piece and its process may generate.

Carved Wood Buildings Detail Art

Sources: McKnabb & Co Studio, Treehugger

Back to Basics #3: Mass

GPI Design - Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Mass. We’re surrounded by it. We inhabit it. It impacts our space, and it shapes our experiences both physically and physiologically. It has the power to be obtrusive and boisterous, or minimalistic and stoic. Here are a few examples that masterfully manipulate mass, emphasizing bold, unapologetic, and vastly different creative perspectives.

Mass Architectural Building Design

Image compiled by GPI Design. Individual image credits: Dezeen (DNB Bank), Paavo Tumblr, Dezeen (Staircase), Arch Daily (Gallery), Phaidon, Arch Daily (SANAA)


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 June!

Thursday Salute to Originals: Translucency Hovers Within Reach

GPI Design - Thursday, May 01, 2014

Translucency can take many forms. Every day at GPI we revel in the translucent qualities found in building materials such as onyx, glass, wood, and resin. Usually forming the show stopping features of a building, their materiality is exposed and celebrated for all to see. With such focus on translucency at center stage, rarely do we pause to ponder the light-transmitting qualities of materials that lie hidden beneath the surface - items so practical and concealed as an automobile airbag.

Bouncing Airbag Vertical Volume Yasuaki

Realizing the artful potential of these ordinary safety devices, Japanese artist Onishi Yasuaki harnesses the inherent translucent (and lightweight) properties of airbags in his installation, Vertical Volume. Allowing the pouches to hover in air, concealed fans activate dream-like movements, creating glowing and hypnotizing assemblages of transparency and weightlessness. The airbag forms are no longer relegated to compacted safety devices stowed in a hidden compartment; instead, their latent potential and beauty is delicately amplified and celebrated.

While we love the unique use of a material rarely touted for its translucent qualities, feelings and reactions towards Yasuaki’s installation have been mixed amongst our team; it doesn’t stir up any particularly strong emotion. Some of us see it as another translucent surface that we could integrate with our backlighting, while others are reminded of a jellyfish or the bouncy graphics in a Mario video game (and we’re usually a deep thinking bunch!).

But maybe the takeaway message from this installation doesn’t need to be rooted deep in thought or artistic theory. In this piece, it is the material itself that creates the intrigue, and perhaps therein lies the lesson: material, no matter what its delegated or common use, has the potential to surprise, impact, and beautify in ways yet unseen. And for that perspective, we give our most respectful salute to Yasuaki for his work in exploring translucency as a moldable, three dimensional medium.

Vertical Volume Bouncing Airbag Material

Translucent Airbag Art Installation

Who knows, maybe now you’ll find hidden potential in that plastic shopping bag, that wax paper sheet in your basket of french fries, or the bubble wrap in your shipping package and transform it into the next celebrated architectural material? Only time (and a creative mindset!) will tell.

Image source: The Creators Project

Thursday Salute to Originals: Hustle Without the Bustle

GPI Design - Thursday, April 24, 2014

The state of being “busy” is constantly celebrated in the workplace, particularly in this office full of designers and creators. We race towards drawing deadlines, hammer out coordination emails at lightning speeds, and revel in late night design vignettes. And for those of us with a longer commute, even the morning trip to work can be fraught with its own dose of busy. As our time is relentlessly consumed in meetings, phone calls, drawings, and emails, on most days we glance up at the clock in wonderment that an entire day has already passed (wasn’t it just 9:30 am?).

As the antidote to busy, and a direct reminder of our twisted relationship to time, artist Adam Magyar slows down our bustling cities into slow motion films. Simply changing the pace at which we observe an everyday activity, such as descending the stairs of a subway station, grants a whole new perspective. In Magyar’s latest film, “Array #1”, we observe a packed crowd in a Seoul subway station. While the context tells us this is a busy rush hour scene, the extreme slow motion allows us to focus on individuals and their drawn-out motions, elevating the scene to performance art rather than an everyday occurrence.

Array #1 from Adam Magyar on Vimeo

If you’re as impatient as some of us at GPI, the film itself can even be challenging to watch through to the end! Today we salute Adam Magyar for reminding us that slowing down the pace of our daily work can sharpen our senses, and may lead to deeper revelations within the design problems we race to solve.

Thursday Salute to Originals: Chickasso

GPI Design - Thursday, April 17, 2014

What happens when you cross a chicken and a paint brush? No, this is not your typical why did the chicken joke - artist Echo Yang actually straps a painting device to a wind-up toy. Transforming the mechanical chicken into a Picasso protégé, the video recordings of the toy’s painting process are even more curious than the final result.

Echo Yang Wind Up Chicken Art

Autonomous Machines - TinToy (Chicken) from echo yang on Vimeo

The toy chicken isn’t the only device that Yang artistically animates – other works include a wind-up alarm clock, vacuum cleaner, hand mixer, and electric shaver as the “artists”. The patterns left by these automated processes are tied to the repetitive motions inherent in their making and operation; each one is distinct, bearing the artistic signature specific to each mechanical device.

Echo Yang Autonomous Machine Wind Up Clock

Vacuum Cleaner Art Echo Yang

In Echo Yang’s pieces, analog meets automation to create art. A simple repetitive motion made by the outdated object is recorded on the surface of a canvas, causing us to question the very act of creation.

Do digital design tools limit our thinking? Or can embracing the capabilities of a machine open up new avenues of expression? For provoking those questions and manipulating the capabilities of the mechanical, this artist is worthy of a Thursday Salute. Now only if we could train that hand mixer to do a door schedule…

Image credits: Echo Yang, Moco Loco