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Beneath the Surface Blog


Thursday Salute to Originals: Slot Machine Thanksgiving

GPI Design - Thursday, November 28, 2013

The traditions inherent in the Thanksgiving meal run deep, thick with expectations of perfectly roasted turkey and creamy mashed potatoes. And with foodie blogs and Pinterest recipes abundant on the internet, the choices for side dishes to perfectly complement your meal offer the tantalizing potential to differentiate.

Designers may relate, as architecture must meet basic standards of structure and code, while simultaneously breaking molds and expressing innovation project after project. But with so many cutting edge choices amidst the traditional strongholds, how does one plan the perfect menu or an award-winning building without getting overwhelmed by all the potential options? The solution: the slot machine.

The Thanksgiving Dinner Generator by Saveur magazine operates like a traditional slot machine, leaving your dinner simply up to chance. Randomizing food options at the click of a button, the spinning categories land on five final culinary selections that become your Thanksgiving menu. You might be a winner with the traditional fixings, or you might end up with a more avant-garde version of this annual feast; it is luck of the draw here. But unless you’re willing take your chances and spin again, your celebratory meal is what it is. In the holiday frenzy, it may cut down on time and stress for the cook’s decisions, but there’s no guarantee the chef will get what he or she wants.

Thanksgiving Slot Machine Meal Planner

Image credit: Fastco Design

This got us thinking. What if designers had a magic wheel we could spin? The categories of program, form, landscape, interiors, and materiality would spin around and around, landing on a final set - a non-negotiable combination that could not be altered by client decisions, meetings, budget constraints, or code requirements. This would certainly reduce project timelines and stress levels, but would design without choice really be design at all? Would the control-loving designer personality be able to relinquish their creative grip and vision, leaving the future of their creation up to a spinning wheel?

Now for some, this might be the perfect solution. But since we’re not the gambling type, this Thanksgiving, we are thankful that design choices are limited only by a designer’s imagination, and not mandated by a random machine. Because, after all, the beauty in any art form – whether it be culinary or architectural – is most impactful when there is a human element and mindful preparation molding and defining its existence.

Happy Thanksgiving to our clients and colleagues! Check out our favorite blogs from past Thanksgivings:

Backlighting Our Food

Eating to the Beat

Thursday Salute to Originals: Loosening Creative Grip for Creative Gain

GPI Design - Thursday, November 21, 2013

As designers, we can all become quite attached to our creations; our ideas become pseudo-beings that we try to nurture and grow into actualization. And while we do our best to accept the inevitable constructive criticism along the way, sometimes it can be difficult to relinquish those creative bonds and allow another perspective to alter your view.

Now, it’s tough enough when the person pulling the reins on your creative prowess is a respected equal - another designer, colleague, professor, etc. - who also has an eye for design, solid a point of view, and an appreciation for artistic expression. But it’s quite a different story when the person collaborating on your design has a little less formal training, and whose professional artistic opinion is influenced primarily by the puppets on Sesame Street.

Four Year Old Artist Mother Sketches

This is the exact situation artist Mica Angela Hendricks found herself in. With her 4-year-old daughter, Myla, constantly begging to contribute to her mother’s lifelike and detailed portraits, Mica finally gave in, allowing young Myla to express her own vision in the drawings.

Mica Hendricks Art Drawings Daughter

Now you might think, initially, that this is a recipe for disaster. A 4-year-old with barely enough hand-eye coordination to wield a pencil would surely ruin the sketches her mother worked so hard on, right? Totally wrong! The imagination, creative spirit, and quirkiness Myla brings to these otherwise serious and somber portraits infuses an interesting dichotomy of technical styling, catapulting these separately ordinary sketches into whimsical works of art.

Hendricks Mother Daughter Art Collaboration Drawing

With such fantastical and imaginative perspective exuded by a child, it reminds us that good, inventive ideas don’t need to come from formal training, and they certainly don’t have to follow the rules. The best ideas should merely provoke thought, add an interesting spin, and inspire a new way of interpreting. Mica and Myla remind us that much can be gained by loosening our grip.

Image sources: Busy Mockingbird, Distractify

From the Field: Backlit Onyx Feature Wall Installation in Ottawa

GPI Design - Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Last winter, the GPI Design team was commissioned to engineer one very unique feature wall in the lobby of 150 Elgin Street in Ottawa, Ontario. Within the main lobby of this 21-story office complex, the designers at NEUF Architect(e)s and ownership at Morguard Investments imagined a glowing onyx wall to dazzle visitors and tenants. Intended to bring an organic texture to the crisp white gallery-like space, the surface possibilities for the onyx wall were left open to the imagination.

Taken by the concept and encouraged with the general contractor’s (PCL Constructors) foresight to plan the feature into the schedule well in advance, GPI Design began working to deliver the backlit onyx wall. Working with an intense obsession for detail and a critical eye on constant refinement, we crept towards the November 2013 completion date.

Now, after much coordination and anticipation, November 2013 is finally here, and we are on site! Here is a condensed look at our development of the feature wall over the last 11 months.

Phase 1: Concept

The designers’ rendering is shared with GPI, establishing the aesthetic vision for the feature wall and its connection to the surrounding space.

150 Elgin Lobby Backlit Onyx Rendering

Phase 2: Engineering

The GPI team begins structural engineering. Prior to final submission, the architect and contractor visit the GPI studio for shop drawing and mock-up reviews where slight adjustments are made. Shops drawings are revised per the review and submitted to the client for approval.

Engineering Section Detail Backlit Onyx Wall

Phase 3: Stone Selection

GPI’s director, Thomas Lawrence, accompanies our geologists on a sourcing trip where they discover the rare Petri Onyx. Meeting all the design criteria for color and patterning, this rare stone variety is procured.

Petri Brown Honey Onyx Pattern Slab

Phase 4: Pre-Production

The GPI Design team performs extensive studies on the layout possibilities of the onyx, and receives feedback from the client on the visual intent; the client selects concept B. Based on this selection, GPI compiles complex production diagrams precisely indicating how the stone will be mapped and cut to execute the desired patterning.

Onyx Bookmatch Pattern Movement Diagrams GPI

Phase 5: Production

After tweaking the lighting cavity and finessing the attachment details, all components of the feature wall are sent to production. This includes: the substructure (custom metal rails, custom powder coat for joints, all fasteners), the onyx itself, LED panels with custom color temperature, wiring, and hand built lighting controllers.

Backlit Honey Onyx Color Swatches

Phase 6: Site Prep + Shipping

All existing site conditions are coordinated to reflect GPI shop drawings and adjusted to fit the feature wall system. Components are shipped to converge on site just prior to our crew’s arrival.

Substructure Wall Construction Backlit Onyx

Phase 7: Installation

This is our current stage in the process - the rewarding phase where all the months of hard work finally come together. Our installation team members have been involved in every aspect of the engineering process, giving them an intimate understanding of the nuances of this system. And with tight 1/32” tolerances, there are many long working days for this dedicated crew.

Backlit Onyx Feature Wall Installation Art

Phase 8: Lighting Adjustments + Programming (to come in the near future)

After all onyx panels are installed, GPI’s lighting technician will analyze each panel individually, then as it relates to the composition as a whole. Based on panel size and stone translucency, our tech will address and adjust the brightness of each individual panel to harmonize illumination along entire wall.

For ease of control, the client opted to have GPI create a central theatrical lighting controller system, synchronizing the behavior of each of our 4 Infuse™ Power Supply/Dimming Units powering the wall. Once programmed, this will offer predetermined scene selections which can be accessed and implemented directly from an iPhone or iPad app.

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THANK YOU to the project teams at NEUF Architect(e)s, Morguard Investments, PCL Constructors, and J2 Construction Management for your upbeat spirits and continual willingness to embrace the natural (and beautiful!) potential of onyx.

Stay tuned to our Facebook page as we post more photographs of the installation wrapping up and completing the final touches.

Thursday Salute to Originals: Hidden Potential in Thoughtful Design

GPI Design - Thursday, November 14, 2013

When it comes to design, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the big picture. With all the excitement and anticipation associated in creating something new, it’s tempting to get distracted by broader ideals. (We know the feeling of getting sucked into the aesthetical momentum of a new project. But when fractions of millimeters make or break our backlit features, we can’t let the distraction of the bigger picture cloud our attention to detail!)


Sometimes when focus is placed so heavily on the larger existence, we miss the most understated, yet significant gems right before our eyes, the important nuances hiding in plain sight. And in our experience, it’s those disregarded details that are key elements in defining the design, function, and purpose of an object – even objects we use (or THINK we know how to use) every day.

Take for instance, Chinese takeout containers. The artfully folded glossy cardstock clearly satisfies the simple utilitarian function of holding food. And their minimal, compact, boxy forms are aesthetical while still sliding neatly into the fridge. But the folded geometry of these cartons actually serves another purpose. Meant to unfold into an impromptu platter while dining, and then crease back up to house remaining cuisine, the thoughtfully designed origami of this simple takeout container is more than what meets the eye:

And take another look at the package housing your saran wrap or foil. The serrated teeth along the edge are clearly noticeable and they seem to get all the glory; everyone knows how those little guys work. But we’re willing to bet you’ve looked over the unsuspecting tabs on the side of the box. When depressed, these simple tabs secure the roll in place, preventing it from sliding or slipping while you tear a sheet:

Now, the goal here is not to start a discussion on the secrets of packaging containers. The point is to acknowledge that our perceptions and attitudes toward design are often clouded by what we believe to be their purpose; we’re swept off our feet by the “big picture” and find it tough to further analyze with an objective mindset. If we’re missing thoughtful design in common objects, what do we overlook on a larger scale? What do we miss in the architecture and interiors we inhabit every day?

So take a second to stop and smell the roses – or in the case of design, stop and VIEW the roses - to notice and appreciate the unsuspecting elements at design’s core. Because who knows, those inconspicuous details might just unlock secret potential you never knew existed.

Image credits: Petals of Paula via Flickr Creative CommonsFood Beast, This Week for Dinner, Apartment Therapy

Thursday Salute to Originals: Nature's Unexpected

GPI Design - Thursday, November 07, 2013

Looking outside, fall has finally arrived. It is one of the most remarkable and breathtaking moments of the year for many parts of the world. One element that stands out during fall in the Midwest is the beautiful trees that shed their colorful leaves. There is a myth that at the right time of day, with the right sunlight, upon the top of each tree is a glistening leaf that turns to gold when it’s bathed in the golden light of the sun. As a child I always tried to find that golden leaf.

Trees are the root of many of our ideas, both metaphysical as well as inspirational. They act as a foundation for ideas, giving us many hints on how Mother Nature designs her natural environments, almost seeming effortless, but most definitely intentional in every way.

Reflecting on those moments, one ponders the different theoretical forms of design that exist naturally that don’t get enough acclamation. Distinctively, two artistic pieces come to mind that possess natural elements not only aesthetically in appearance, but highly functional in the inherent material composition and ability to command the idea of “life” as its basis of origination.

Below are two different images - one is a design project, while the other is a photographic piece. Both act as current inspirations for designers to draw inspiration from the natural world, allowing the possibilities for growth to creep into spaces.

Project: Eco-Architecture To "Grow Your Own Home"

Plantware Eco Architecture

Eco Architecture Growing Home Design

Imagine designing a construct or spatial quality not by putting the elements and components together like Lincoln Logs or Legos, but rather designing it based on future growth and calculated certainty in strength and composition. The above design by Plantware boasts a new level of integrated design concepts focusing on biological environments, living and breathing plants that are shaped and mimicked on the micro level of biological engineering. Their main objective is to generate a innovative conceptual framework that can be applied in multiple facets of design using biological engineering as its backbone. Now as fascinating as it sounds, it doesn’t do much for those of us that aren’t biological engineers! However, none the less still quite a captivating concept from which to draw spatial cues.


Image: Unintended Green Architecture

Tree Growing Side of Building

The piece above, although not engulfed in creative design or screaming innovation, still brings to our attention that even the plants can go out of their way to remind us that sometimes we focus on hardscape too much. In such a barren and depleted wall condition, high up at almost 4 stories, a tree attempts to grow horizontally amongst a collection of solid brick in a crevice. It is examples such as this that make one wonder how it was even possible.

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Food for thought: sometimes we designers forget that Mother Nature has some much to offer us as inspiration for design. We tend to only remember the “dead” materials for design such as the stones, metals, and treated woods, and we often forget the “living” materials, the ones that live, breathe, and change over time. Nature truly is the best designer, taking elements that are at once organized and unpredictable. Since being a child, I never did find that golden leaf. However in looking for it, I discovered that what lies between the unoccupied spaces of trees is where imagination, beauty, and creativity all come together.

“Love the trees until their leaves fall off, then encourage them to try again next year.” ― Chad Sugg

Image credits: Green ProphetBroken Sidewalk

Thursday Salute to Originals: Phobia-Schmobia

GPI Design - Thursday, October 31, 2013

We seem to be having our fair share of run-ins with critters lately. A few weeks ago it was the fruit flies. Now today, one of our designers encountered a very unwelcome big creepy spider crawling right across her desk. Her blood curdling scream scared the pants off everyone in the office. Fitting, we suppose, seeing that it is, after all, Halloween.


For some of us in the office, this wasn’t an issue; spiders are just another harmless little creature. But for those of us in the office with a slight arachnophobia complex, that creepy-crawly eight-legged little body of terror really caused some panic.

So staying within that same frightening Halloween spirit, we thought it might be fun to visit some of the more wacky fears out there. Just in case the ghosts and goblins weren’t enough to scare you today, here are some of the strangest fears that would really create some problems, especially if you’re a designer!

Aesthetical Fears:

Mycrophobia - the fear of small things. (Certainly not good when you’re working in fractions of millimeters, which is typical on most of our projects!)

Koinoniphobia – the fear of rooms. (Did the famed “open concept” design originate from this fear?)

Dextrophobia – the fear of objects oriented on the right side of the body. (Now we understand designers and clients are picky, but we’re not quite sure how you get around this one….)

Cacophobia – the fear of ugliness. (Hmm…on second thought, it seems like most designers have this issue!)

Asymmetriphobia - the fear of things being asymmetrical. (Or maybe it’s just a preference for things being “well-balanced.”)


Color and Material Fears:

Leukophobia - fear of the color white. (Might cause some problems since this color is very trendy in conveying that sleek and clean look.)

Hylophobia – the fear of wood, trees, and forests. (The over 2,000 square feet of real backlit wood used on our NCI project would be a real-life nightmare for someone with this phobia.)

Atephobia - the fear of old buildings or ruins (Guess historic preservation is out of the question for these phobics).


General Fears:

Logizomechanophobia - fear of computers (You might want to choose a different career path if you suffer from this fear, you won’t get very far on those 3D renderings for your client without using a computer!)

Chronophobia - the fear of time. (Deadlines are stressful, but having anxiety about time won’t do you any favors in meeting them!)

Papyrophobia – the fear of paper. (Well, good thing paperless trend is catching on…)

Allodoxaphobia – the fear of opinions (We’ve never met a designer who didn’t have an opinion - and a strong one - on something. If you suffer from this fear, stay far, far away from the design industry.)

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So whatever scares you this All Hallows Eve – whether it be a rational, exaggerated, or simply silly fear - remember that there is probably someone out there with an even more eccentric phobia. Who knows... you might just encounter a spook or spirit (or crazed zombie designer) tonight that will add a new phobia to your list! Boo!

Image credits: GFB Robot, Wood-Guides, Zenhabits, 2.BP, Topix

Thursday Salute to Originals: Architexts

GPI Design - Thursday, October 24, 2013

Are you in need of a break from model space in the land of AutoCAD? When we could use a short dose of humor, the website Architexts is always near the top of our favorites list. Styled in cartoon format, the short quips depict a familiar scene from an architectural office, usually playing out an insider’s take on day to day office operations that nearly any designer can relate to.

Take a look at some of our favorite Architexts:


Not only do the comics hit home, they usually spur interesting discussion in the comments section. The dichotomy between the architect and engineer is debated, the woes of redlining are expressed, and we watch junior designers scarf down a sandwich at their desk. We salute the creators of Architexts for their dead-on honest peeks into the strange culture of the architectural office!

Image source: Architexts

Thursday Salute to Originals: Pen Pals

GPI Design - Thursday, October 17, 2013

Is most of your daily communication transmitted via keystrokes? Whether punched out from your laptop or cell phone keyboard in the form of an email, text, or Tweet, typewritten words are created and consumed at lightning speeds. Designer Cristina Yanko boldly broke from this trend by forgoing traditional text messaging and email altogether.

For seven days, Cristina didn’t type a single word. She instead used her father’s antique calligraphy pen to write out all communication, snapping photos of her handwritten notes to transmit via text message.

Handwritten Calligraphy Text Message

Cristina Vanko Text Messaging Calligraphy Notes

The shift to pen and paper was initially inspired by her fascination with the pen itself, but it soon took on a whole new meaning. As Cristina relays, this is what she learned over the seven day period:

1) A phone isn't only a texting device.

2) People like to plan phone calls these days, rather than receive them randomly.

3) My personality shined through so well that one friend texted back "it's like you're here with us!"...but then she followed up a few messages later that "it's almost like you’re deaf and passing notes around in the room."

4) Having a pen and paper is handy at all times.

5) My lack of a timely response really just meant that I didn't have a pen and paper around.

6) My messages sent were more thoughtful in the "I used complete thoughts" type of way.

7) You look super silly if you completely ignore all that you learned in English classes. Impeccable grammar and flawless spelling is necessary for a handwritten note.

8) I wonder if a lack of response all together meant people didn't remember their loops and swoops aka cursive...

9) Writing a message and driving is more dangerous than texting and driving.*This is an educated guess.

10) We are a culture that heavily relies on emojis.

11) It was indicated multiple times that people feel more "special" when they received handwritten messages.

12) For those who didn't comment the handwritten responses and continued messaging normally just affirmed that my friends think this is something that I'd do on a day-to-day basis…which is definitely true.

Cursive Calligraphy Pen and Paper Handwriting

There is something powerful about the act of writing that brings more purpose to the writer and a more intimate sense to the receiver. We wonder how communication in the design and construction industries might be more thoughtful if everyone was forced to hand write! For her one week journey into returning the personal charm to communication styles, today we salute Cristina Yanko.

Source: CristinaVanko.com

Thursday Salute to Originals: Aquatic Artist

GPI Design - Thursday, October 10, 2013

Take a good look at the image below...

Puffer Fish Sand Circle Design

Intriguing, right? Fascinating movement with geometric motifs and radial patterns bursting from the center. Captivating play of shadow and light on the undulating peaks and valleys. Nice balance and symmetry. Someone must have spent significant time developing this concept, and then meticulously executing the design. So who’s behind this artful masterpiece? We’re betting you won’t believe who – or what – the artist is…

Puffer Fish

Yep, that’s right. A fish. This little guy, a 5 inch male puffer fish, is the artist of this amazing underwater sand installation.

Using his pectoral fins, the male puffer fish spends 7 to 9 days laboriously constructing what have been dubbed “underwater crop circles.” Carving radial grooves into the sand, these mounds form elaborate spirographs reaching about 7 feet in diameter. Always an eye for detail, the puffer fish will embellish the edges of his masterpiece with crushed shells and use varieties of sediment to add color to the design. (And we thought designers were particular!)

But what is motivating this little guy to express himself in such an artful manner? Does he just have an urgent need to decorate the ocean floor? Well, not quite. Turns out, this elaborate design is all to attract a female! Female puffer fish are drawn to the circles, where they inspect the design prior to mating. If the female puffer fish deems the circle suitable to her liking, she will lay her eggs on the fine sediment in the center.

But there’s more to these seafloor circles than just looks; there is actual function and specific engineering at the heart of these remarkable designs. The peaks and valleys, while beautiful, are actually a unique funneling system. They channel the fine, female-puffer-fish-approved sediments toward the center of the circle. And at the same time, they reduce speed of flowing water in the center by almost 25%, protecting the vulnerable eggs from washing way in harsh currents. So this awesome aquatic design isn’t just aesthetical, it’s functional. And by a FISH, no less! Mind. Blown.

We salute you little male puffer fish for your determination and artistic prose, and for proving that design is certainly not just for the human species!

Image credits: Blogfish, Treehugger, Conscious Life News, Reefbuilders, Decoded Science

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