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Beneath the Surface Blog

Thursday Salute to Originals: Pint-Sized Design Perspectives

GPI Design - Thursday, April 10, 2014

We’ve been talking a lot about “basics” in our office lately – the essentials of communication within the design process, basic design tools as building blocks, and fundamental engineering concepts. With a team full of seasoned veterans and vibrant designers, rarely do these conversations involve the thought processes and design opinions of young children; we were refreshingly intrigued by the short film “Shape”.

Created to educate Irish youth about the effects of design on their everyday lives, “Shape” is a stick-figure animation that walks through an ordinary day and highlights how the objects and spaces impact the characters. Watch as the film progresses through environments at home, in the office, at school, and on the streets, constantly shifting between plan and elevation as architectural details, objects, and technology evolve:

[Shape from Johnny Kelly on Vimeo]

Posing the poignantly simple question, “if, for one day, you had the power to make your world work better, what would you change?”, this children’s film can transfer its lessons to adults as well. What portions of the film made the most impact on you? We’re willing to bet that the future or present architects noticed the window placement, the aspiring planners made note of the shifting streetscape, and the budding interior designers perked up at how the office layout affected behavior. As designers, we DO have the power to make the world work better. What are you changing? Did your childhood self have those same aspirations?

Back to Basics #2: Repetition

GPI Design - Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The act of doing something over and over isn't always a good idea. Especially when it comes to doing some things in particular – like stealing your co-worker’s lunch out of the fridge, for example – it is probably not good to make a habit out of it.

But in some cases, repetition can be a good thing, especially in the design world. Repetition is one of those simple design concepts that we seem to instinctively know, but rarely seem to focus on or appreciate as the true star of a space. Often color, lighting, technology, or the overall concept of a project overshadows this workhorse of design. So in an effort to call attention to the star player that is repetition, here are some strong examples of how this tool allows a design to transform from average to extraordinary.

Repetitive Geometry Design and Architecture Examples

Image compiled by GPI Design. Individual image credits: Design Milk JWT, Design Milk Wheel, Design Milk Coach, Stunning Picz, Arch Daily, Design Milk Klenell, Tumblr


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 May!

Thursday Salute to Originals: Flexible Forest of Light

GPI Design - Thursday, April 03, 2014

Our backlit features, in all of their beauty, are proudly monolithic and rigidly calculated. We debate over 1/32” changes in joint lines, the words “align”, “coordinate”, “tolerance” are plastered across our shop drawings, and we sweat over manufacturing tolerances at fractions of a millimeter. With such deep-seated precision in our daily design work, it’s no surprise that this art installation caught our attention as a refreshing reprieve.

Vana Stretch Tree Material Architecture

In the Vana installation by the architects at Orproject, surface material meets LED backlighting but the result is anything but permanent. As a canopy draped over an entire room, the triangulated tree structure grows and stretches towards certain points of light. An immersive installation, the structure consists of geometric shapes stitched together with joint lines expanding and contracting as the tree grows and evolves into new shapes. There’s a lot to touch upon why this piece is impressive, but here are the main qualities that stand out to us:

Immersive Form

The surface creates the interior space; the surface IS the room as opposed to an applied finish. The distinction between ceiling and column is blurred, a welcome contrast to the standard manner in which architectural planes rigidly intersect.

Lighting the Void

While our work focuses on illuminating an entire panel of material, Orproject flips this relationship to celebrate the joints between pieces. Light escapes through these voids, making the attachment method and that gap more curious than the material itself. This gets us thinking, is negative space > positive space?

Organic Geometry

Do the terms “organic” and “geometry” even belong in the same phrase? With the 3D printing craze yielding structures derived from computer algorithms, these days many architectural forms are beginning to look the same, regardless of context or culture. In this project, the ability of the structure to organically adapt to a stimulus, and the thoughtful engineering behind that feat, is elevated to an equal importance as its shape.


Deep layers of light and shadows emerge as the as the tree structure shifts, unveiling different lighting patterns. The perception of a forest is simultaneously linked to its layers of shadow and light – a simple quality that can be easy to forget when forging through the world of lighting design.


As designers and engineers, our egos can pull us to view our creations as perfect, permanent objects, indestructible by even the most powerful of forces. But the materiality, construction, and form of the Vana installation reminds us that our creations – no matter how robust we perceive them to be – are relatively fragile, transient, and forever-aging. Time and nature will cause imperfections in our designs (like the “cracks” in the Vana installation), but that does not lessen their value. It simply calls attention to the fact that no matter how creative man is, we cannot outsmart the natural progression of time.

We appreciate when designers are as dedicated to the little, yet essential, details as we are. And we’re especially respectful (and, admittedly, a little jealous) when they manage to reveal and celebrate them as the heart of a project in new and unexpected ways. For highlighting latent nuances in form, light and detail, we salute Orproject and their Vana installation. Thanks for bending not only the forms you design with, but also our perspective on backlit features.

Image credits: Orproject

Thursday Salute to Originals: Sushi Couture

GPI Design - Thursday, March 27, 2014

As trendy (and delicious) as sushi is, it does tend to generally look the same from restaurant to restaurant. You know the drill – filling rolled in rice wrapped in seaweed. Done.

If the wasabi and ginger aren’t quite cutting it for you in the “embellishment” department (surely a common complaint amongst sushi-lovers, right?), never fear. Sushi has suddenly gone couture.

Design Nori Lasercut Sushi Pattern

Called Design Nori, Umino Hiroyuki of Umino Seaweed Shop and advertising agency I&S BBDO collaborated to create this designer seaweed. Laser-cut with delicate, intricate patterns, this seaweed is not only functional, but fashion-forward.

Custom Sushi Wrap Lattice Design

Lasercut Sushi Wrap Patterns Couture Design

Superfluous as it may be, we love the thought of sushi taking on an even more artful form with these designer wraps. So next time you break out the chop sticks, feast your tummy (and eyes!) on a treat that merges the culinary with the couture. If something as seemingly inconsequential as a seaweed wrap can be elevated from pure function to a celebrated surface, you can certainly spice up your façade design a little bit, right?

Image credits: Design Milk

Thursday Salute to Originals: Taking Structure Out of Sculpture

GPI Design - Thursday, March 20, 2014

Museums are inspiring places. Being surrounded by the antiquated works of artists who have expressed themselves in ground breaking ways is truly moving. Sculpture is particularly awe-inspiring. 

With subjects painstakingly carved out of a solid blocks of stone, it’s compelling how sculptors have managed to harness the power of such a rigid medium, creating the illusion of it being light, airy, and easily malleable. (Seriously – they make rocks resemble supple skin, silky hair, and flowing fabric for crying out loud!) The way in which the rigidity of the stone is delicately fashioned is truly commendable. And how these works of art have stood the test of time is not only a credit to the artist’s craft, but to the timelessness of the material itself.

Li Hongbo Accordion Paper Sculpture

So when we came across artist Li Hongbo’s sculptures, what astounded us most wasn’t the fact that they are stunningly accurate replicas of some of the most celebrated busts in art history. Nor was it the fact that these sculptures were carved out of a block of paper instead of the traditional stone or plaster (which we should note, is remarkable in its own right, but in a minute when you see what else is special about these sculptures, this attribute pales in comparison). What really amazed us is that the sculptures have a secret identity - they completely morph and grow into totally different forms, then recoil to their original state. Intrigued? Confused? Watch the clips below and be amazed!

A result of an intensive gluing and laying process, these stacked sheets of paper become literal compacted accordions in block form. Once carved and sanded into the desired shape, the “statues” can be pulled and stretched in unlimited ways and unrecognizable forms, thanks to their honeycomb substructure.

For completely changing the way in which we perceive sculpture and materiality, we salute Li Hongbo and his ability to deconstruct the rigidity of a statue. In some ways, we think his works have the potential to be even more inspiring than their original counterparts. Now after seeing these, we’re dying to have one of these sculptures at our desks…not only are they beautiful in statue form, but we have a feeling these would be a GREAT stress reliever when those deadlines start piling up!

Sources: This is Colossal, Design Milk

Thursday Salute to Originals: An Artistic Spin on Submersion

GPI Design - Thursday, March 13, 2014

As the title of our company blog not-so-subtly alludes to, we are drawn to delving into that which lies “beneath the surface”. This can be in the form of a thoughtful engineering detail, a glimpse behind the scenes into the design process, or our personal spin on architectural news. What we don’t often come across (or consider) is the literal act of submergence.

Submerged Turntable Evan Holm Installation

Artist Evan Holms quite literally plays with objects lying beneath the surface – of water, that is. And we enjoy the meaning that can be drawn from his kinetic artwork. Holms presents a record player barely submerged in water, the melody remaining generally intact despite all visual logic (and without the zapping electrocution that one expects). The senses of sight and sound clash, begging for interpretation.

Through the connotations within the piece, Holms strikes a fine line between descent into chaos (sinking) and emergence into optimism (floating). He describes his work with strong references to the unconscious mind: “The pool, black and depthless, represents loss, represents mystery and represents the collective subconscious of the human race. By placing these records underneath the dark and obscure surface of the pool, I am enacting a small moment of remorse towards this loss. In the end however this is an optimistic sculpture, for just after that moment of submergence; tone, melody and ultimately song is pulled back out of the pool, past the veil of the subconscious, out from under the crush of time, and back into a living and breathing realm.”

For reconnecting sight and sound, and bringing artistic form to literal immersion, we salute Evan Holms in his work. How can we as designers continue to remind ourselves of the importance of acoustics and context in the perception of space? How can the dichotomy of floating vs. sinking be achieved (either literally or figuratively) in the realization of a design? Somehow, we don’t think the addition of carnival dunk tank is the only answer…

Sources: Evan Holm, Beautiful Decay

Thursday Salute to Originals: Progressive Prosthetics

GPI Design - Thursday, March 06, 2014

Though constantly breaking ground and pushing boundaries, the medical field isn’t usually a hotbed for aesthetic advancements. That’s really how it should be, though. After all, time, money, and energy should be spent saving lives, not debating on the proper metal finish for the stethoscope or whether or not the color for surgical gloves matches this year’s color forecast. (Sorry, Pantone Color of the Year, your powers are useless here). But it’s always nice when thoughtful design somehow infiltrates into unfamiliar territory, making its mark on seemingly unrelated genres.

Antique Prosthetic Leg Device

Take the prosthetic sector of the medical field, for example. Prosthetics have been around for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptian, Roman, and Greek soldiers who had lost a limb would be fashioned a crude prosthesis out of wood or metal, allowing them to continue fighting in battle. The objects were heavy, cumbersome, and meant to strictly to cover up what was considered an embarrassing defect of the human body.

Ironman Prostheses Design

Over those thousands of years, the stigmas have faded, and ideas, technologies, and materials behind prostheses have progressed and improved. But unfortunately design and aesthetics have been somewhat lacking here, remaining cold and impersonal pieces of foreign material affixed to the body - more of a one-size-fits-all type of mentality. Prosthetic development hasn’t quite caught up with design of modern times or their wearers. Until now, that is.

Recognizing the glaring lack of aesthetics and personalization inherent in medical prosthetics, Bespoke Innovations decided to close the gap between function and modern, individualized design. With industrial design and surgical backgrounds, Bespoke Innovations custom designs and tailors each prosthetic specific to the patient, bringing “…a more personal approach to the way a broad spectrum of medical devices are developed and used”.

Looking like something pulled straight from Zaha Hadid’s sketchbook or a Fashion Week runway show, these prostheses are anything but rudimentary replacements. They are literal works of art that celebrate the wearer, while highlighting the lost limb. Behaving more like a prized fashion accessory - akin to shiny piece of jewelry accenting the neckline or a meaningful tattoo commemorating a special event - their clever designs completely break the traditional prosthetic mold with visually striking yet personal touches in modern materials and motifs.

Bespoke Innovations Modern Custom Prosthetic

“Our hope is to enable our clients to emotionally connect with their prosthetic limbs, and wear them confidently as a form of personal expression. Our products turn something ordinary into something amazing. …We envision a day when people are invited to participate in the creation of the products that have meaning to them on a fundamental level, a day when bodies are consulted directly in the creation of the products that enhance or complement them.”

For recognizing the need for personalized design in a previously not-so-personal genre, we salute Bespoke Innovations. Who knows, maybe Radiant Orchid surgical gloves aren’t out of the question after all?

Source: Bespoke Innovations

Image credits: Documenting Reality, PBS, Core 77, Bespoke Innovations

Back to Basics #1: Form

GPI Design - Tuesday, March 04, 2014

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’ll highlight a fundamental design theory and showcase just how important and formative that concept is in shaping the final perception of a design.

So without further adieu, let’s kick things off with FORM.

Whether is soft and sweeping, angular and rigid, plain and simple, or chaotic and complex, form is what frames a design, molding the overarching shape and structure of a concept. Whether its is large or small scale, the form of a design largely determines its persona , defining its emotional and visual identity. Below are some of our favorite examples where the full potential of form is harnessed and celebrated in aesthetic form.

Back to Basics Form Design Studies

"Back to Basics" will publish on the first Tuesday of each month - stay tuned!

Image compiled by GPI Design. Individual image credits: Dezeen, ArchDaily © Patrick Bingham-Hall, Static Dezeen, Yatzer, Arch Daily © Georges Fessy / DPA / Adagp, Knstrct, Piccsy

Thursday Salute to Originals: The Napkin Sketchbook

GPI Design - Thursday, February 27, 2014

The quintessential architect is always equipped with the right tools: stylish spectacles, a tailored black outfit, a fine tipped pen, and a Moleskine sketchbook. But what happens when the avante-garde are caught off guard, finding themselves unarmed in a coffee shop or informal lunch meeting with an urgent need for impromptu sketching? No need to panic. Meet The Napkin Sketchbook.

Architect Napkin Sketchbook

As calculated as designers tend to be when diving into a drawing set, the napkin eases the pressure as a less-intimating canvas: readily available, easy to discard, and limited in area. Perfection is not required here. (Let’s be honest, it’s pretty easy to doodle and draw freely on something normally used to wipe ketchup off your face). But by providing a space for both completed and blank napkins within a leather bound sketchbook, now our napkin ideas can be eternally preserved and protected from wear and tear – just in case those squiggles morph into a masterpiece worth saving.

Aside from the interior “canvas,” design of the case deserves some attention as well. As a detail most designers can appreciate, the drawing pen slides into leather straps locking the sketchbook closed; a simple (yet genius!) solution. Made from untreated leather, with repeated use, the leather continues to age gracefully, acquiring a prized patina over time. High quality materials and detailing encapsulate the essence of our ideas – scrawled in black ink over the surface of a napkin.

Leather Bound Architect Sketchbook

Today, we salute those designers who brave the empty napkin in sketching to their heart's desire! Because, after all, it’s not the glasses, the blazer, or the pen that defines a good idea. Sometimes the best and most groundbreaking concepts arise from the simplest means - a doodle on the corner of a napkin.

Source: Baum-Kuchen, Arch Record

Thursday Salute to Originals: Opening/Closing

GPI Design - Thursday, February 20, 2014

They say “when one door closes, another opens” but this door design may have you repeatedly closing, opening, closing, and opening all over again.

The Evolution Door by Austrian designer Klemens Torggler deconstructs the traditional notion of a door. Instead of a swinging rectangular plane of wood hinged at one side, think two rotating squares that dance across an opening on spinning hinges. The basic experience of the passage through a doorway is enlivened as the user must directly interact with its unique form. Only a video can do it justice, take a look at the below clip and tell us you aren’t mesmerized!

This leaves us wondering, why haven’t architects thought of this before? Geometry, detail, alignment, function, motion and sculpture wrapped into a single package - what else could we ask for? In reinventing a mundane object, Torggler has managed to morph the conventional perception of a passageway into a completely reinvigorated and original experience - which is, after all, always the goal of progressive and thoughtful design.

This Thursday, we salute the concept of the doorway and all of the possibilities that it presents both for architectural design and as a symbol of the future.

Sources: YouTube, Klemens Torggler Doors