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Beneath the Surface Blog

Thursday Salute to Originals: SlingsHot Simplicity

GPI Design - Thursday, May 15, 2014

We love when we’re caught off guard by those “why didn’t I think of that?” design moments. They don’t happen often, but when they do, we’re left scratching our heads, wondering what other everyday objects we could improve with a simple tweak in design.

Samir Sufi Tea Cup SlingsHOT Product Design

With our affinity for straightforwardness and caffeinated beverages, it’s no wonder we fell so quickly in love with the Tea Cup SlingsHot. Through a slight alteration to the handle, a new and practical function emerges, solving an annoying problem without compromising the integrity of the mug. All you have to do is pull the tea bag back like a slingshot to squeeze out every last drop of tea, then the bag stashes in the elegant compartment until later. No extra spoon. No messy puddles. No soggy teabag to dispose of. Seriously, why didn’t we think of that??

Tea Cup Slingshot Design

While we realize the mug isn’t solving any major world issues or humanity crises, the revamped design does exemplify the powerful impact of mindful rethinking. And without the use of electronic technology to enhance the design (no weird buttons to push, nothing to plug in, no apps to download), the utter simplicity of this mug’s solution to a problem really speaks volumes. And for that, we salute the Tea Cup SlingsHot. Now if someone could just figure out a way to automatically refill the water reservoir in our office coffee machine, we’d be set!

Source: Design Milk

Thursday Salute to Originals: Sketching with a Band Saw

GPI Design - Thursday, May 08, 2014

What are your favorite tools for sketching? A fine-tipped black Micron? A svelte mechanical pencil? Most drawing items are compact enough to stash in a few inches of space, but rarely is a power tool considered as a drawing instrument – especially one as imposing as a band saw.

Wood Carving Cityscape by McNabb

James McNabb sketches cityscapes using a distinct method of shaping wood with his own choice of “drawing instrument”. Using a band saw, McNabb repurposes scrap wood into buildings ranging from 3” to 16” tall. The monuments are assembled into larger pieces, organically taking shape into cityscapes and skylines.

Instead of stretching across a flat horizon in traditional skyline fashion, these groups are then turned upside down as tables or morphed into circular forms. McNabb describes that he did not set out to create city scenes; he rather serendipitously began cutting into scrap wood and soon found that as a collection, the forms took on the familiar shape of the NYC skyline he loved to observe as a child growing up in a New Jersey town. The sculptures are decidedly an outsider’s view of the city, focusing on the massing and profile of buildings from a bird’s eye perspective.

Carved Skyline Wood Table by McNabb

Cityscape Skyline Wood Art Bandsaw

McNabb’s sculptures are at once ordered and unruly, general and detailed. The mass of the city is all-consuming (perhaps in reference to urban sprawl?) and while inspired by the artist’s background, carries no formal reference to certain cities. With the assemblage of forms triggering associations to the city in general, the viewer is then invited in to examine the details – How was it made? How does each piece relate to the whole? What does it mean?

As frequent sketchers, sticklers on quality and craftsmanship, and lovers of wood materiality, we have great respect for those – designers, artists, or novices – who are able to separately incorporate these into their design processes and finished products. But McNabb presses the envelope further by combining unorthodox tools, artistic methodology, and classic materiality into one streamlined and sophisticated entity. Performing as a uniquely charged tandem, McNabb melds destructive power tools, fleeting sketching, and natural wood into a wholly expressive piece that embodies meaning in every nook and cranny. In this “city full of splinters”, we salute every interpretation and inspiration that the piece and its process may generate.

Carved Wood Buildings Detail Art

Sources: McKnabb & Co Studio, Treehugger

Thursday Salute to Originals: Translucency Hovers Within Reach

GPI Design - Thursday, May 01, 2014

Translucency can take many forms. Every day at GPI we revel in the translucent qualities found in building materials such as onyx, glass, wood, and resin. Usually forming the show stopping features of a building, their materiality is exposed and celebrated for all to see. With such focus on translucency at center stage, rarely do we pause to ponder the light-transmitting qualities of materials that lie hidden beneath the surface - items so practical and concealed as an automobile airbag.

Bouncing Airbag Vertical Volume Yasuaki

Realizing the artful potential of these ordinary safety devices, Japanese artist Onishi Yasuaki harnesses the inherent translucent (and lightweight) properties of airbags in his installation, Vertical Volume. Allowing the pouches to hover in air, concealed fans activate dream-like movements, creating glowing and hypnotizing assemblages of transparency and weightlessness. The airbag forms are no longer relegated to compacted safety devices stowed in a hidden compartment; instead, their latent potential and beauty is delicately amplified and celebrated.

While we love the unique use of a material rarely touted for its translucent qualities, feelings and reactions towards Yasuaki’s installation have been mixed amongst our team; it doesn’t stir up any particularly strong emotion. Some of us see it as another translucent surface that we could integrate with our backlighting, while others are reminded of a jellyfish or the bouncy graphics in a Mario video game (and we’re usually a deep thinking bunch!).

But maybe the takeaway message from this installation doesn’t need to be rooted deep in thought or artistic theory. In this piece, it is the material itself that creates the intrigue, and perhaps therein lies the lesson: material, no matter what its delegated or common use, has the potential to surprise, impact, and beautify in ways yet unseen. And for that perspective, we give our most respectful salute to Yasuaki for his work in exploring translucency as a moldable, three dimensional medium.

Vertical Volume Bouncing Airbag Material

Translucent Airbag Art Installation

Who knows, maybe now you’ll find hidden potential in that plastic shopping bag, that wax paper sheet in your basket of french fries, or the bubble wrap in your shipping package and transform it into the next celebrated architectural material? Only time (and a creative mindset!) will tell.

Image source: The Creators Project

Thursday Salute to Originals: Hustle Without the Bustle

GPI Design - Thursday, April 24, 2014

The state of being “busy” is constantly celebrated in the workplace, particularly in this office full of designers and creators. We race towards drawing deadlines, hammer out coordination emails at lightning speeds, and revel in late night design vignettes. And for those of us with a longer commute, even the morning trip to work can be fraught with its own dose of busy. As our time is relentlessly consumed in meetings, phone calls, drawings, and emails, on most days we glance up at the clock in wonderment that an entire day has already passed (wasn’t it just 9:30 am?).

As the antidote to busy, and a direct reminder of our twisted relationship to time, artist Adam Magyar slows down our bustling cities into slow motion films. Simply changing the pace at which we observe an everyday activity, such as descending the stairs of a subway station, grants a whole new perspective. In Magyar’s latest film, “Array #1”, we observe a packed crowd in a Seoul subway station. While the context tells us this is a busy rush hour scene, the extreme slow motion allows us to focus on individuals and their drawn-out motions, elevating the scene to performance art rather than an everyday occurrence.

Array #1 from Adam Magyar on Vimeo

If you’re as impatient as some of us at GPI, the film itself can even be challenging to watch through to the end! Today we salute Adam Magyar for reminding us that slowing down the pace of our daily work can sharpen our senses, and may lead to deeper revelations within the design problems we race to solve.

Thursday Salute to Originals: Chickasso

GPI Design - Thursday, April 17, 2014

What happens when you cross a chicken and a paint brush? No, this is not your typical why did the chicken joke - artist Echo Yang actually straps a painting device to a wind-up toy. Transforming the mechanical chicken into a Picasso protégé, the video recordings of the toy’s painting process are even more curious than the final result.

Echo Yang Wind Up Chicken Art

Autonomous Machines - TinToy (Chicken) from echo yang on Vimeo

The toy chicken isn’t the only device that Yang artistically animates – other works include a wind-up alarm clock, vacuum cleaner, hand mixer, and electric shaver as the “artists”. The patterns left by these automated processes are tied to the repetitive motions inherent in their making and operation; each one is distinct, bearing the artistic signature specific to each mechanical device.

Echo Yang Autonomous Machine Wind Up Clock

Vacuum Cleaner Art Echo Yang

In Echo Yang’s pieces, analog meets automation to create art. A simple repetitive motion made by the outdated object is recorded on the surface of a canvas, causing us to question the very act of creation.

Do digital design tools limit our thinking? Or can embracing the capabilities of a machine open up new avenues of expression? For provoking those questions and manipulating the capabilities of the mechanical, this artist is worthy of a Thursday Salute. Now only if we could train that hand mixer to do a door schedule…

Image credits: Echo Yang, Moco Loco

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?

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