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Beneath the Surface Blog


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.

Thursday Salute to Originals: Marbles Merge Antiquity + Architecture

GPI Design - Thursday, July 25, 2013

If you read last Thursday’s blog post, you’ve probably guessed that we can’t resist a little sparkle. Well, we came across something else this week – this time a new material – that really caught our eye (what can we say, when it comes to shimmer, we’re like a moth to a flame…). But more importantly than catching our attention, this material got us thinking.

BlingCrete™ is a product that embeds concrete with glass spheres (essentially, marbles) to create an unusual surface and building material. Not only does this material reflect light, creating dancing shimmers and shadows across its surface, but it also embodies an interesting texture and pattern that turns simple concrete into a new sensory experience for both the eyes and fingertips.

At the heart of this material, and what makes it so intriguing, are the embedded glass spheres –the marbles. Their small scale, smooth texture, and specific geometry enhance what would otherwise be a common matte surface. So this got us wondering…how did marbles make their way from rolling in sand as a childhood pastime to gracing the most high-profile architectural designs? Where did marbles even come from?

Well turns out, marbles have been around for quite some time; a REALLY long time. In fact, its thought that marbles originated as small rocks polished by rivers and streams, to which the concept was then adapted (sometime around 3300–1300 BCE) to a more “modernized” spherical version fashioned out of stone, clay, flint, and even glass. Ancient Egyptian tombs, Native American burial grounds, and Pueblo ruins have all yielded versions of these prehistoric marbles.

But beyond antiquity, marbles have remained a mainstay in human society. In the middle ages, popularity of marbles as an interactive game soared. And, as time progressed, so did fascination with the little orbs - with the game, their appearance, and their multitude of uses . By the 1800’s factories in Germany began an era of mass production, with popularity of these colorful, shiny spheres peaking in the 1920s and 1930s.

Since then, marbles have retained an international attraction. Whether used as a toy, a piece of jewelry, a collectable, an inspiration for art, or as piece of artwork themselves, their inherent shape, scale, shine, and beauty make these tiny spheres appealing to a multitude of senses, cultures, and purposes.

Given the appeal to these tiny globes over centuries and centuries, it seems it was only a matter of time before the valued inherent characteristics of marbles eventually migrated into the design world. So from ancient streams to modern buildings, we salute marbles for bringing together antiquity and architecture in a completely new and innovative material that reinvents a prehistoric pastime and craft.

Image credits: BlingcreteMuseum of Childhood, WallpaperNo

Thursday Salute to Originals: Chain Link Dreamscape

GPI Design - Thursday, July 18, 2013

They say all that glitters is not gold. But in this case, all that glitters is a chain link fence and some plastic. Intrigued? So were we!

The art installation Unwoven Light by Soo Sunny Park combines completely unglamorous and totally utilitarian chain link fence with filmed Plexiglas to create an absolutely stunning and constantly morphing experience of color, light, shadow, and form.

Unwoven Light Installation Art by Soo Sunny Park

Meticulously wired between openings of suspended chain link fence, thousands of iridescent Plexiglas pieces refract light at limitless angles, bouncing brilliant streaks of hue, illumination, and shadow around the space. As lighting and your position shifts through the undulating forms, so does the visual experience, encapsulating the room and viewers in a surreal and ever-changing array of sparkles.

Reminiscent of glimmering fish scales or iridescent butterfly wings, this dynamic blend of color and light seems almost fairytale-like as the twinkling sculpture projects a hypnotic ebb and flow of rainbowed illumination. For recognizing and revealing the transient power of color and light, we salute Soo Sunny Park's beautifully airy and whimsical installation. Sometimes, everything is better with a little glitter!

Image credits: Soo Sunny Park, Design MilkInternational Sculpture Center

Thursday Salute to Originals - Fashion Worth Staring At

GPI Design - Thursday, July 11, 2013

Even though its summer, it’s been pretty gloomy at our Westlake office lately. All the clouds, rain, and lack of sun are making us a little drowsy; and we’ll admit, we’ve even caught ourselves staring from time to time.

Normally, staring doesn’t accomplish much; fixating your gaze on an object isn’t usually the most effective means of getting things done. (And it certainly isn’t the most proactive pastime when things are as busy as they are around here!) So we were quite intrigued when we stumbled upon a dress that is “activated” just by your stare. Staring can actually accomplish something? We could barely believe our eyes!

Image credit: Ying Gao

Made of super organza and photoluminescent thread, Ying Gao’s (No)Where (Now)Here dresses track eye movement and brighten and pulsate with contact from your peepers. Simply staring at the dress activates the textile, making threads dance and illuminate in a dream-like (and kind of creepy) chorus of movement and light. Never has your gaze been so powerful! (Imagine if staring at piles of shop drawings worked the same way...)

Watch the clip below and see for yourself as these gowns come to life with just with a simple stare.

(no)where(now)here : 2 gaze-activated dresses by ying gao on Vimeo.

How could this concept translate further into the world of architecture and interior design? We think the possibilities for surface design could be endless!

Thursday Salute to Originals – The Red, White, and 70075?

GPI Design - Thursday, July 04, 2013

Emerald Green might be the Pantone Color of 2013, but today, America’s birthday, its all about the red, white, and blue – or more specifically, the 70180, 70001, and 70075.

Yep, that’s right. Like many things in the design world, the American flag has its own specific set of designated colors. The Color Association of the United States, from which the American Government references and specifies colors of the flag, has designated the colors of Old Glory as:

  • Cable No. 70180 - Old Glory Red
  • Cable No. 70001 - White
  • Cable No. 70075 - Old Glory Blue

While these colors are deemed the “official” hues of the flag by the Government, they aren’t the only tones used. The U.S. Government designates 193 and 282 as the Pantone equivalents for the red and blue of the flag. However, other sources, including many printing organizations, specify Pantone 186 and 288 as the patriotic red and blue. Pantone 281 is also frequently used.

So however you celebrate the Fourth of July this year (and whatever color you choose!) enjoy your freedoms and keep your eye on that Grand Old Flag!

Image created/compiled by GPI Design using flag image source

Crain’s Cleveland Magazine Features GPI: Local Firm with Global Reach

GPI Design - Friday, June 28, 2013

“Look cool? It’s by design”


GPI Design was honored with a front cover spotlight in this week’s issue of Crain’s Cleveland Magazine. The Crain’s reporters spent time speaking with our founder and director, Thomas Lawrence, about the roots of our company and where we are headed.

Read the full story by downloading the article below:

GPI Design Crain's Cleveland Business GPI Design Crain's Cleveland Business (712 KB)

Thursday Salute to Originals: Toying with Material

GPI Design - Thursday, June 27, 2013

As architecture trends towards revealing the inherent origin of materials and their processes, this modern artist defies expectation by doing exactly the opposite. Meet Jeff Koons, an artist from New York who makes granite look like plastic, plaster look like metal, and metal look like a stretched balloon.

Jeff Koons Balloon Inflatable Pop Art

In one avenue of his work, Jeff Koons replicates inflatable objects.  What may appear as cheap plastic decorations are actually made from solid, heavy materials such as granite and plaster. Sculpting the dense media into objects that appear as light at balloons, Jeff plays on your predetermined notions of materiality. In his dissociative works, he substitutes surface in order to block out meaning; Koons keeps the artistic discourse and interpretation to a minimum, letting the consumption of his pieces tell the story.

“One of the main reasons that I work with inflatables is that the aspect of inside/outside—if you look at an inflatable and you think about it, it seems very empty inside,” Koons tells me. “Oh, it’s air in there, so it’s empty. But that moment that your exterior space around you feels denser, it gives you more of a sense of confidence in the world. You think about your own inside. It’s denser. It’s blood, it’s guts, it’s tissue. And so if you’re not around that concept of the inflatable, it’s more of a void out there. Okay? It’s denser inside here than outside. It’s vacuums. But when you’re experiencing an inflatable, for that time, it’s vacuous inside that object and it’s empty inside.” (source: Vulture)

Jeff Koons Art Hybrid Balloon Animals

Koons Yellow Rabbit Metal Twisted Balloon Sculpture

[Balloon animals made with high chromium stainless steel with transparent color coating]

Black Granite Koons Gorilla Sculpture

["Gorilla" made with black granite]

Hulk Inflatable Art Exhibit

[“Hulk (Wheelbarrow)” made with polychromed bronze]

With an elite circle of art aficionados, Koons’ work has a loyal following amongst collectors who can afford the often seven-digit price tags. As his pieces possess a materialistic wonderment that screams of Pop art and an editorial on the culture of commodity, it’s not surprising that Koons has carved out a distinct space “at the top of” (or as some may argue, above) the art market.  Though we sharply disagree with his methodology of rejecting the inherent nature of materials, we salute his strict adherence to it!

Source: Vulture, Jeff Koons, SF Gate, Design Milk

For a Peek at Our Process, Join GPI on Instagram

GPI Design - Tuesday, June 25, 2013

We just started experimenting with our new Instagram account! Our design team is sharing images of our process that provide a peek into our day-to-day life here at GPI.   If you are on Instagram you can catch those glimpses by following @gpidesign.

So far we are enjoying this app for its ability to collapse geography - a few scrolls allows us to view and "like" images of architecture and lighting from all over the world.  And it's fun for us to open up our process to show the steps along the way.

Are any other designers out there using Instagram? Leave us a comment here with your handle so we can be sure to follow you!

Thursday Salute to Originals: Sun Salutation

GPI Design - Thursday, June 20, 2013

Tomorrow is the summer solstice and what better way to celebrate than to feature a project that harnesses the energy of the sun! The beautiful coastal town of Zadar, Croatia comes to life at sunset via the Sun Salutation piece, a public art installation by Croatian architect Nikola Bašić.

This "circle of light" consists of 300 photovoltaic solar cells installed beneath glass panels to create a dynamic flooring landscape at the water’s edge. The LEDs shift colors and patterns to create a spectacular show that mimics the rhythm of the waves, a breathtaking scene in the evening light.

Nikola Basic Sun Salutation Installation at Croatia Coast

The installation also moves to the sounds of an oceanic musical instrument, the Sea Organ, which was also designed by Bašić. The Sea Organ is built into marble stairs at the edge of the water which emit whale-like noises when waves crash into the marble.

In conjunction with the Sun Salutation piece, Bašić merges the open frontier of the sea with the urban public space. Installed in 2005 after the renovation of the city’s shore front, Sun Salutation produces enough energy to be used for the installation, as well as for the lighting of the entire waterfront.

Solar LED Glass Floor Installation by Nikola Basic

Art Installation LED Lighted Floor with Solar Technology

The Sun Salutation is a unique example of modern technologies coexisting with the natural landscape to create a sense of tranquility and peace, following both the ebb and flow of the ocean and implementing renewable energy sources in an urban context.

As we celebrate the onset of summer, what are you doing to salute the sun?

Image credits: My Modern Met

On Our Desk: Subbing Out Stone Supply

GPI Design - Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Natural Onyx Stone Slab Colors

We have a confession to make… in the process of creating backlit features, not everyone likes our stone sourcing process. As beautiful as our backlit onyx features turn out in the end, there are pain points along the way and selecting an onyx variety is sometimes one of them. While we’re scouring the world for exotic natural stones, it can be difficult to swallow the fact that it make take time to discover the perfect match and that you will only see a photo to make your choice (unless you’re brave enough to jump on a plane and travel to unglamorous, dusty, and often remote stone yards!).

Yes, it is a leap of faith and we end up spending countless hours explaining the merits of this selection process, because it always turns out great results. Here’s a little bit about why we use photos for stone selection, and one agonizing example of how the selection process played out in a current project...

Our Stone Sourcing Strategy

We don’t stock any type of stone, whatsoever. That allows us to find the best match for each project – discovering a match that the client loves, ensuring it is available in the right sizes and quantity, has the right translucency levels for the lighting environment, etc. That means that you select your onyx from a high resolution photograph that we take, usually right in the quarry or the stone yard. There’s usually no time for samples, as the stones are bought and sold at lightning speeds. Once you give the green light, we buy that stone and start fabricating with it (knowing we can shift its appearance by changing its thickness, shifting the lighting temperature, and being creative with the patterning).

Case In Point

Our conviction to this sourcing strategy was strengthened this week when one of our projects hit a road block. We have been working on a backlit bar application for a very unique project (we’ll refrain from over-sharing the details). As the client became uncomfortable picking out a GPI stone from photos alone, she took it into her hands to find her own stone locally (gasp!) and it was decided that she would use this supplier instead of GPI. We would illuminate the stone that she hand-selected, sounds reasonable right? We were open to the scope change and continued to design.

After we received a large control sample of her selected stone, our lighting team was sent into a frenzy. The problem was, the stone our client found through their own source was not thinned down or backed with glass and the dense stone formation was blocking a significant amount of light. The properties and thickness could not be changed by this supplier, it was too far into production. How to bring more light through a stone that was too thick, too dense, and one that our client already shelled out a significant amount of cash to purchase? We ended up completely re-designing our backlighting system. After several days of mock-ups and iterations, that meant we had to triple our lumen output, add more control channels and more drivers. In essence, the lighting now cost the client much more money, and it’s because the stone was out of our control. Crisis averted as we were able to re-design the lighting, but it wouldn’t have come up in the first place if the stone was correctly chosen!

Lesson Learned

When we handle the supply of stone, we end up shaving it down to the correct thickness with MILLIMETERS making the difference between a stone that is too opaque and a stone that glows perfectly. And it is this precise control of both the stone and the lighting that allows us to be both accountable and successful.

The word “integrated” is not just a word to us, it rings true in everything we do at GPI. And in this case, we were shocked into remembering that the more we handle, the better. Yes there are many stone sources out there, making it easy to be enticed by exquisite slabs at your local supplier, but which suppliers know as much about lighting as they do about onyx? And if you split up the onyx from the lighting, who is responsible when the backlit stone doesn’t look right in the final combination? Bingo!

It’s examples like these that make us wish more designers and owners would tiptoe more carefully when backlighting materials. In pushing to keep more items under the scope of a single company, “integration” is not an empty sales pitch – it guarantees the design intent is delivered as envisioned and within budget! And if you don’t have a company integrating surfaces and light for you, PLEASE promise us you will create your own mock-up to uncover potential problems before it’s too late to tweak the design!