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Beneath the Surface Blog


Thursday Salute to Originals: Shall I Play For You (pa rum pum pum pum) - On My Wineglass?

GPI Design - Thursday, December 19, 2013

Nothing gets you in the holiday spirit quite like Christmas music. Merry melodies, quirky lyrics, and beloved classics quickly instill joy and nostalgia, becoming a soundtrack for the season. And with the radio stations blaring holiday music 24/7 since before Thanksgiving, this seasonal music is a little difficult to avoid. Over a month of listening to nothing but cheery holiday jingles will make even the grumpiest Grinches and Scrooges of the Christmas season change their tune (pun intended!).

Insistent as it may be, Christmas music does play special role in setting the spirit of the season. With jingle bells, trumpets, and drums accenting these cherished songs, there is a certain sound very specific to Christmas music; it’s different from the regular songs you hear on the radio the other eleven months of the year. But while Christmas music is unique in its own right, we’re willing to bet you haven’t heard it done quite like this…

Glass Duo Playing Glass Harp

Anna and Arkadiusz Szafraniec of the Glass Duo were, at one point, classically trained musicians and members in the Baltic Philharmonic Orchestra playing the violin and trumpet. However, after recognizing the potential musical quality inherent in fine glassware, they decided to abandon their traditional instruments to make music with less conventional means.

Glass Harp Musicians Duo Music

Referred to as a glass harp, the Glass Duo uses glass goblets of varying sizes to produce music with a swipe of a finger. Carefully and precisely running their fingers around the delicate edges, sound resonates within the goblet, creating beautiful harmonies. Spanning 5 octaves, this glass harp is largest one in the world, and has an incredible range of note and pitch.

Glass Harp Musical Instrument

Oddly enough though, using wine glasses as instruments at one time wasn’t quite as avant garde as it seems today. Dating as far back as the 12th century in China and the late 1400’s in Europe, glass music was once quite popular, but slowly died out as time moved on.

Listen below as the Glass Duo plays their rendition of the Sugar Plum Fairy. If you had heard this song on the radio mixed in with all the other Christmas favorites, would you ever have guessed it was produced by dishware and not a traditional musical instrument?

Now, normally we salute those who make our Thursday blog. But in this instance, it seems only appropriate that we TOAST! So we raise our glasses to the Glass Duo for embracing unconventional and antiquated methods, and using them to put a captivating and unique twist on the holiday season. Cheers!

Image credits: Glass Harp

Thursday Salute to Originals: Snowflake Focus

GPI Design - Thursday, December 12, 2013

As you tune into the evening news, take a moment to listen to how the winter snowfall is reported in the weather forecast. You will notice that snow is usually described in large volumes, using measurements of its mass intended to intimidate the morning commuters. Phrases such as “eight inches of accumulation”, “hard-hitting snowstorm”, and “cold front” refer to snow as a massive force, a looming entity without individual parts. How often do we step back to appreciate the white fluffy stuff flake-by-flake, millimeter by millimeter?

Macro Detail Snowflake Pattern

In his macro photographs, Russian photographer Alexey Kljatov captures snowflake patterns in such vivid details that, for a moment, we stop complaining about our frosty morning drives. The up-close views of individual flakes reveal details that engage thoughts about the accumulation of snow – how can weather patterns so ominous, so regional, so imposing, be built from these tiny breathtaking building blocks?

Snowflake Crystal Closeup Photo

Snowflake Up Close Detail Photo

Macro Shot of Snowflake Detail

Snowflake Photography Detail of Crystal Pattern

What’s even cooler? Kljatov uses fairly basic equipment in his shooting process, layering lenses with plastic bags and packing tape. He takes the photos right in his own backyard, catching flakes on his balcony and lighting them with an LED flashlight.

Camera Snowflake Detail Photography by Alexey Kljatov

Capturing the originality of nature with simplified, homegrown technology, we salute this artist for reminding us that, sometimes, a little tunnel vision can shake up our frozen perspective.

Image credits: If It's Hip, It's here

Thursday Salute to Originals: Creation through Subtraction

GPI Design - Thursday, December 05, 2013

Usually when creating, we tend to think in terms of addition. Colors + materials + forms + light = manifested vision. It’s the combination and compilation of these various items that turn an idea into a physical entity. These additions are what build a design and define its identity.

It is much more difficult to think of design in terms of subtraction. We’ve been trained that you must add things together in order to create something. (After all, an idea minus nothing still equals nothing, right? You can’t bake a cake without combining all the ingredients, can you?). But artist Karin Waskiewicz has embraced the concept of subtraction and turned it into a unique way to craft her artistic vision.

Deep Blue Paint Excavating Karin Waskiewicz

“Deep Blue” Acrylic on Panel, 24×20 / Image credit: Design Milk

Using layers upon layers of poured dried paint as her substrate, Waskiewicz chips away at the surface, revealing colorful coatings of enamel beneath. Layer by layer, she discovers new hues and patterns as she literally digs deeper into the surface, generating works created INTO paint and NOT by the stroke of a paint brush.

Reflective Yellow Mound Acrylic Painting

“Reflective Mound”, Acrylic on panel, 36×24 / Image credit: Karin Waskiewicz 

"Reflective Mound" (Detail), Acrylic on panel, 36x24, detail / Image credit: Karin Waskiewicz

Almost like excavating an archaeological site revealing treasures hiding beneath, Waskiewicz’s works take shape as she progresses. More a process of discovery as opposed to the execution of a pre-calculated design, her visions slowly reveal as she painstakingly and patiently moves deeper into the surface. Not only does this subtractive technique give her works a very tactile appearance – it’s not the application of paint that gives the illusion of depth, it’s actually the physicality of these crevices creating pockets of three-dimensionality - but the randomized assemblages of colors convey an psychedelic and almost dreamlike appearance. (And we can’t help but notice that the organic movements and various tonalities within these pieces look a lot like our backlit onyx panels, too!)

Revival Chipping Away Acrylic Paint Layers

“Revival 1″ Acrylic on canvas, 25.5×20.5 / Image credit: Karin Waskiewicz 

Serving as a reminder that sometimes the best ideas emerge from nontraditional techniques and practices, we salute Waskiewicz's artistic prose and her courage to embrace an unconventional method, proving that subtraction can actually add up to a moving masterpiece.

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

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