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Beneath the Surface Blog


Thursday Salute to Originals: Alternative Media

GPI Design - Thursday, August 28, 2014

ARTISTS. Reading this one word can conjure up a number of different thoughts and genres. Some may think in terms of music, others in terms of dance, or even cuisine. But for those of us with design training, we tend to think of artists in the traditional sense, with some of the greats, like Picasso, Pollock, or Warhol, coming to mind.

While these three artists are very different in style and technique, they all share a common bond: choice of medium. These artists (and many others) work[ed] on canvas, paper, and typically with paint, art’s traditional workhorses. However, since art is about expression and pushing a conceived idea to the next level, using alternative mediums can very effectively redefine the meaning of a creation.

Tim Noble and Sue Webster have been working in unique mediums since 1996 when they attended British Rubbish in London. Since then, the couple has been very successfully creating art from what others may refer to as “Rubbish.” But these trash sculptors are exceptional for more than just the fact that they work with garbage. The true beauty of their work is realized in the shadows, with the sculptures casting silhouettes of realistic people, animals, plants, and more. Noble and Webster found a way to take use trash to create sculptures that evoke feeling through the medium alone.

Webster Garbage Shadow Art

An artist’s ability to control the medium they are working with is vital. This is why Erika Iris Simmons stands out as a one-of-a-kind artist. Simmons, commonly referred to as iri5, is a self-taught artist who has always enjoyed working with “strange experimental materials.” The most prevalent of these materials is cassette and VHS tapes. Iri5 removes the tape from these cassettes and shapes them to resemble relevant characters from bands, movies, and shows. For example, a cassette tape of London Calling by The Clash has been repurposed as a piece of cassette tape art depicting Paul Simonon smashing a bass on the ground. Others included a John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction and John Lennon.

Bob Dylan Cassette Tape Art

While painting has been widely used in art for thousands of years, painting with light is a relatively new idea. In 2007, artist Janne Parviainen made a discovery that redefined the way he created his art. While working with long exposure photography, Janne happened to bump the camera. A streetlight in the photo created an interesting “brushstroke” and Janne decided to start manipulating and using light as a brush. He now paints by attaching a series of LED lights to his fingertips and painting in front of an open lens. Janne stated that he believes his work is, “in an interesting intersection of photography and painting". These “light painted” images are not altered through use of computers. They create an eerie and beautiful piece of art that is both unique and effective.

There are many other artists that work in unusual mediums - Dominic Wilcox (tin foil), Scott Wade (dirt on cars), and Maurizio Savini (bubble gum), just to name a few. But while all the artists listed above use unorthodox materials, the effect of their art would not be nearly as compelling if they were unable to harness the unusual medium and use it to its fullest ability.

Whether the chosen medium is typical or off the wall, what truly matters is the manipulation of that material and the quality of the work. And while we’re sure people will continue to ask the difficult question of “What defines art?” even after reading this blog, what we’re hoping to accomplish here is an acknowledgement that the line between art and not is very blurred at best.

So without further ado, we give our most sincere salutes to the artists who dare to distort this line even further, ultimately proving that a change in medium can completely redefine the way art is viewed.

Image credits: Twisted Sifter, Janne Paint, Tim Noble and Sue Webster

Thursday Salute to Originals: Wall Evolution

GPI Design - Thursday, August 21, 2014

The wall is a surface plane integral to architecture. Encloser of space, divider of exterior and interior, delineator of territory, threshold of privacy. The wall is a ubiquitous form, often overlooked for being so utterly commonplace. But taking an x-ray look into a wall section can actually tell quite a history. From ancient masonry blocks to modern lightweight structures, the wall has continued to evolve as a reflection of current materials and construction methods. So what will tomorrow’s walls look like?

Architectural firm Barkow Leibinger built walls of the impending future in this “Kinetic Wall” installation at the 2014 Venice Biennale. Set amongst a constructed timeline of ancient walls through stone, brick, wood, and glass partition, the kinetic walls extend into the utopian future, pointing towards an idealized architecture.

AD Interviews: Barkow Leibinger / Kinetic Wall from ArchDaily on Vimeo

Constructed of two layers of gridded fabric animated by motorized points, the wall ebbs and flows with robotic fluidity. Moving along the wall is an experience in compression and release, activated through real motion. The wall is both massive and lightweight, dynamic in its interpretation and experience.

This Thursday, we salute the under-appreciated wall plane. For being a blank canvas in expression of form, material, technology, or even movement, if walls could talk they would speak for eons. How do you envision the walls of the future?

Thursday Salute to Originals: What is a Photo Worth?

GPI Design - Thursday, August 14, 2014

A picture is worth a thousand words, or so they say. But lately, with the inundation of photography and image-capturing technology around us, photos seem to be a dime a dozen; we don’t even recognize them as special moments captured in time anymore. Sadly, most photos today are worth only one word: apathetic.

When we came across two photo series that actually made us stop and think (in very different ways), we were instantly intrigued. And when we realized that these collections, though vastly different at their core, actually embodied a common message, we were even more enthralled.

Take for instance, the History in Color series of color-restored historical photographs by artist Dana Keller.

Coney Island, New York, ca. 1905

Looking strictly at the black and white original, it's easy to disconnect from the picture; the content seems unrelatable, dated, alien. But when Keller restores these historical photos in full color, she completely alters the perception of the image.

Waldwick Train Station, ca. 1903

The dichotomy of the black and white photo and its color counterpart brings the past to life, abruptly reminding us that history was not experienced in desaturated monotone. The world was perceived just like it is today in bright, vivid colors, textures, and patterns. And often, that simple likeness is forgotten or underestimated. But these photos remove that misconception, and reveal a startling – and vibrant! – connection between generations.

CONVERSELY, the Digital Ethereal project by designer Luis Hernan, reveals something entirely different. Instead of highlighting similarities of the world past and present, Hernan’s photos expose an invisible realm that exits around us, one we can’t see, touch, or directly experience.

Using a slow shutter speed camera and a phone app, Hernan is able to create a visual representation of these covert Wi-Fi fields. The app, which indicates Wi-Fi strength by color, shows signal locations and their respective intensities when captured on film. So not only do Hernan’s photos reveal that are we constantly surrounded by an invisible technological cloud, of which we are blissfully unaware; but more importantly, the photos force us to acknowledge the fact that just because we can’t see something with the naked eye, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Now you may still be scratching your head, wondering how these two polar opposite photo collections relate; what is their common worth? After all, one highlights the past in a revived historical context, while the other displays the advancement of technology in a sci-fi kind of way. But their semblance and value lies not in the subject of the photos. The similarity is really in the underlying message at the heart of each collection: The way in which you perceive a photo at face value, may be vastly different from the reality of how that moment was and is actually experienced.

For providing a refreshing reprieve from the overwhelming swarms of monotonous imagery we’re inundated with day in and day out, we salute both of these thought-provoking series. Hopefully the next time you pose for that selfie, you’ll remember the underlying message of these two collections, and consider the face value of your photo versus its fundamental worth.

Image credits: Dana R. Keller, Peta Pixel

Thursday Salute to Originals: The Crooked Forest

GPI Design - Thursday, August 07, 2014

Nature never ceases to amaze us. Case and point: the Crooked Forest of Gryfino, Poland.

Crooked Forest Poland Bent Trees

Consisting of about 400 pines with a strange 90 degree bend at the base of the trunk, the Crooked Forest is certainly a sight – albeit a bizarre one – to see. But perhaps even stranger than their appearance is the fact that no one really can pinpoint why or how they got this way.

Crooked Tree Trunk Poland Forest

Some believe these trees, planted around 1930, are a completely natural phenomenon, potentially caused by a number of different stressors – a change in gravitational pull, heavy snows, etc. But others believe this peculiar shape was purposeful manipulation by man, potentially done to create “naturally” curved furniture or ship parts. (If man is the culprit, is this intervention a travesty that robbed the tress of their natural form? Or does it simply make man geniuses, guilty of only using their imagination and ingenuity to strategically mold their surroundings to their benefit?)

Bent Trees Forest Nature Poland

Whatever the reason, we’re still intrigued by the odd shape of this forest and the mystery surrounding it. And for that, we salute both Mother Nature and Man. Because no matter which party is responsible for the strange form, the trees stir deep-rooted discussion, wonder, and speculation about the influence of man vs. nature.

Sources: IFL Science, The Mystery World, Slightly Warped

Thursday Salute to Originals: Childhood Scribbles, Grown Up

GPI Design - Thursday, July 31, 2014

It looks like the end is near... the end of summer that is. While we’re not quite into August yet, it seems signs of fall are already creeping in – slightly cooler breezes, earlier sunsets, and dreaded back-to-school specials are looming. The latter is probably the most daunting. Most of us in the office have been out of school for at least a few years now (some more than others), but we all remember heading back to the classroom with a new backpack and fresh box of crayons, and the definitive end it brought to summer fun.

Luckily, though, we stumbled upon an art series called Kiddie Arts, which has rekindled our back-to-school spirit, and our love for crayons and uninhibited young minds!

Kiddie Arts Telmo Whale Sketch

In a nostalgic stroke of genius, the Dutch artist Telmo Pieper revisited some of his favorite childhood doodles and reinterpreted them as a grown man with a modern set of crayons (aka digital editing technology).

Honoring his childhood creations, the overall silhouette of the animal or object remains unchanged. Telmo then meticulously details the body and background, turning what was once a fleeting adolescent scribble, into a stunning combination of matured presence and childlike whimsy.

But while this series is light-hearted, it has caused quite a deep discussion around the office: What could we generate from our own childhood drawings, looking at them now with fresh, wiser, older eyes? Could those strange kindergarten scribbles be translated into inspiration for a new building façade? Or could that wacky invention we envisioned as a kid actually come to life now with all the advancements in modern technology? Maybe our former, younger selves could impact and reinvigorate our current perspectives? Maybe we knew something back then that we’ve lost touch with now?

Today, we salute Telmo. Not only for validating and reinvigorating childhood creations in a newfound way, but for reminding us that our former selves can still very much influence the design sensibilities and aesthetic points-of-view we hold as established adults.

Maybe heading back to school isn’t so bad after all?

Image credits: Telmo Pieper

Thursday Salute to Originals: Architecture Under Cover

GPI Design - Thursday, July 17, 2014

Being in Northeast Ohio, we know the weather can change in the time it takes to snap your fingers. The joys of spending an hour getting ready for the day just to go out into the summer humidity to have it ruined in seconds. Or how about in the winter months when you climb in to your freezing car just to have it finally warm up when you get to your destination? Here in Northeast Ohio, Mother Nature is uncontrollable and we tailor our days accordingly. Dubai, however, in the near future, might not have to worry about any weather changes at all.

Not only is Dubai home to the tallest building in the world, the city has also unveiled plans for the world’s first indoor city—a temperature-controlled mega resort and shopping center enclosed with a retractable glass roof. Sounds amazing, right?

This project is described as “an innovative concept” that will “strengthen Dubai’s appeal as a tourism hub.” Their vision for this “Mall of the World” is designed as a contained street spanning just under 4.5 miles and will include a shopping center, theater district, and a gigantic theme park (just to name a few). The developer describes the space as an "alternative experience to the typical Dubai mall".

The space acts as its own hub, protecting its visitors from the stifling summer months—when temperatures can exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit! But thanks to a retractable glass roof, people can be exposed to fresh air in the cooler winter season.

Dubai Mall of the World Interior Structure

Today we salute property developer, Dubai Holding, for this vision that you could say most of us in Northeast Ohio would be jealous of. Not only is the architecture phenomenal, but the idea of enjoying the view of the outdoors while being protected from the elements gives you the best of both worlds.

Source: Dezeen

Thursday Salute to Originals: Salty Panels

GPI Design - Thursday, July 10, 2014

Salt! Sprinkle it on your corncob, put a dash in your pasta water, use it to make homemade cleaning agents or even mouthwash. Believe it or not, a minimal 6% of all salt manufactured goes into food. So where does the other 94% go?

Besides being a basic commodity for making food delicious, it is believed that there are more than 14,000 uses for salt. One of those uses, perhaps most interesting to those geometrically inclined, is three dimensional printing. Recently, an American studio, known as Emerging Objects, printed a 3D pavilion in using salt harvested from the San Francisco Bay.

Salt Structure Translucent Material

The images here speak for themselves. Similar to the materials used here at GPI Design, building with translucent materials such as salt allows light to permeate the space, highlighting the assembly and structure, and reveal the unique qualities of one of humankind’s most essential minerals. Each panel recalls the crystalline form of salt and is randomly rotated and aggregated to create a larger structure consisting of unique individual tiles. We can certainly relate, though our materials can't be boiled back down and used to flavor our dinnertime corn.

Let’s adopt a schoolmasterly tone at this point and discuss the roots of this ionic compound. Salt is a natural mineral made up of white cube-shaped crystals composed of two elements, sodium and chlorine. It is translucent, colorless and odorless. It is also a renewable resource, is inexpensive compared to commercially available printing materials and creates strong lightweight components. While these qualities sound bland (no flavor pun intended), the designers at Emerging Studio were able to capitalize on their inner scientists and transform the compound into pure sculpture.

Image credits: Dezeen

Thursday Salute to Originals: Oh Say Can You See...

GPI Design - Thursday, July 03, 2014

Tomorrow is Independence Day and we’re gearing up for the colorful fireworks which will be lighting up the skies. Around here, you can’t talk about color and light without spurring a long discussion about translucency and natural onyx… but as opposed to writing a narrative about the intriguing layers of fireworks as compared to natural stone, we decided to demonstrate with photographs. So here you have it – fireworks images matched up with our favorite onyx slabs.


Happy Fourth of July! While your neck is craned towards the sky tomorrow, be thinking about how those wildly colorful bursts could influence your next design.

Image Sources:

1- Gold fireworks image from Tarogold 

2- Petri Brown Onyx image by GPI Design

3- Smoky fireworks image from Gadgil Lab

4- Gray Smoke Onyx image by GPI Design

5- Pink and red fireworks image from BSP

6- Agglomerate Stone image by GPI Design

7- Green fireworks image from Nice Cool Pics

8- Irish Connemarble image by GPI Design

9- White fireworks image from Poke

10- Diamond White Onyx image by GPI Design

11- Pink smoke image from Digital Photography School

12- Fire Red Onyx image by GPI Design

Thursday Salute to Originals: Fluffy Forms

GPI Design - Thursday, June 26, 2014

There is no shortage of artists expressing form via dimensional sculpture. And with 3D printing and laser technology all the rage, we’re seeing an overwhelming trend in calculated geometries that warp into complex volumes (as if a Buckminster Fuller structure met Stretch Armstrong). With such an inundation of this trendy treatment of form, the refreshing work of Tara Donovan caught our eye this week.

Tara Donovan creates seemingly “fuzzy” sculptures assembled from mass-produced goods such as index cards or acrylic rods. She builds from millions of these building blocks to create organic landscapes – ones that appear like rock formations or molecular explosions but are simply formed from these rather mundane materials.

The artist’s pieces are a welcome reprieve not only from the digital technology creative culture, but are also pointedly different than our own work. In cladding various architectural planes with our backlit surfaces, we are nearly always building a flat plane that comes alive through layers of rich, organic patterning. Panels fall into line within rigidly calculated structural systems. Complex natural materials are fabricated into simple, flat rectangular forms. When brought to life with light, patterns and veins emerge, jumping across the feature in lines of animation. There is an element of restraint as organic materials are tailored to manmade geometries.

In contrast, Donovan’s work fuses simple and inexpensive materials into complex forms. Her pieces rely on mass and volume to draw the eye, focusing more on the resulting shape rather than the content of the individual pieces. The sculptures represent accumulation and assembly, exploding with energy as manmade objects become organic forms.

Today we salute Tara Donovan for exploring the entirely opposite side of the coin – that which gathers commonplace items in quantity to expand and complicate space. Donovan’s work will be on display at Pace Gallery in NYC through August 10, 2014. If you visit the exhibit, drop us a line and let us know your reaction to the sculptures! How do they relate to or depart from architectural design?

Sources: Pace Gallery, CollabCubed

Thursday Salute to Originals: Select Your Scribble

GPI Design - Thursday, June 19, 2014

The world of design is brimming with new developments in up-and-coming technology, product launches, and the next big ideas. Take the Scribble pen, for example. Any Photoshop devotee would be thrilled that the “eyedropper” tool has come to life, meaning that you can use the pen to grab a color from any real-life object and draw with that exact color. Move over Pantone swatches, this is instantaneous matching and finite control at its best!

With over 16 million hues and a programmable memory, the Scribble pen is admittedly awesome, certainly attracting a deserving share of hype. And it can be easy to get swept up in the bells and whistles of gadgetry, we know. (Let’s just say that the day we installed our on-site time-lapse cameras wasn’t exactly the most productive in history). But can this type of instantaneous and exact control actually weaken our relationship to those colors, textures, and materials which cannot be bridled?

A common reminder in our office is to take our eyes off the computer screen and back to the hard and true materials. Our surface materials are usually of the natural kind - rings of wood or layers of onyx formed over thousands of years. And while those characteristics can be shifted to some degree - you can tweak appearances and aesthetics with a lighting design change or framing method – those natural qualities are never simply repainted or redefined with an electronic paintbrush. Sure, the Scribble pen is a magic wand of an instrument that can open up creative possibilities, but it leads us to think there may be such thing as too much control over those possibilities.

Natural Pattern in Backlit Onyx Materials for Feature Wall

In creating backlit onyx and wood features, we navigate the concept of control through the design process almost every day. Without prepackaged sample boxes, SKU numbers, or catalogs of options, we hunt for unique translucent wood and onyx materials by traveling straight to the sources at which they were formed: the forests and quarries. Though is not always easy relinquishing the grasp when dealing with natural materials, interior designers and architects who specify translucent wood or onyx surfaces take the leap of faith that we will find a material in Mother Nature that meets their vision.

Backlit Wood Natural Texture Illuminated

Once we find the perfect material, the colors, textures, patterns, and inherent layers formed into the materials are workable only through changing the panel sizes or optimizing the best portions of material. There’s no editing involved, no magic eye drop tool that can ensure a Pantone-exact color match, no clone stamp that allows us to magically delete a vein running through the center of a panel. We simply work with Mother Nature and mold it using our artistic inclinations; it all comes down to a natural and human element which no machine can dictate. We can’t always select our scribble, and that constraint sets off a series of chain reactions that result in true originality.

Today, we salute the creators of the Scribble pen for not only harnessing one very cool design tool, but also for challenging us to think about how convenient technology can potentially limit more traditional forms of art. Because after all, there is creativity and ingenuity at the heart of every new invention. But it’s our responsibility as designers to keep that control from inhibiting our imaginations and ultimately, our figurative and actual scribbles.

Are you a designer working with natural materials? How does the process challenge your inherent role as a designer, to control and specify to a fine degree? How can technology affect the process of working with natural resources?

Sources: Inhabitat