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Beneath the Surface Blog


Thursday Salute to Originals: Pareidolia

GPI Design - Thursday, August 22, 2013

We like to consider our projects works of art, especially when it comes to selecting and perfecting the surface (or face) of the backlit project. There are truly endless arrays of translucent surfaces that we can implement into our backlit systems, and each will “speak” differently to every client. No one has the same interpretation.

And when it comes to the natural stone used in our backlit Dura-Lite™ panels, that sentiment certainly rings true. Sometimes the more you look at a particular slab of onyx, the more it will express and reveal. You might even start to see familiar forms, shapes, and silhouettes emerging from the sweeping colors and swirls of Mother Nature’s creations. Like finding animals in clouds or seeing the man in the moon, that same phenomenon of pareidolia - where you’re mind convinces you that there is a recognizable and significant shape or form in an unrelated stimuli – takes place when looking at natural stone.

Below are a few of our favorite examples of pareidolia in the natural stones we work with. See if you can spot the forms, too!

Can you see the pink flamingo in the swirls of this slab honey-colored onyx?

Honey Onyx Flamingo Pattern

Or what about the dancing girl hiding in the undulating colors of this exotic green onyx panel?

And there is a screaming monkey in this rare onyx variety. See if you can spot him (this one is hard to miss!).

So is it Mother Nature planting surreptitious messages into her stunning works of art, or is it just a simple case of trompe l’oeil? Whatever the cause, we love how onyx always seems to speak to us – even if the message is only a screaming monkey.

What other forms can you find hiding in these onyx slabs?

Thursday Salute to Originals: Locksmith > Architect?

GPI Design - Thursday, August 15, 2013

Greenwich Locksmith Original Facade

As the owner of a small locksmith shop in the West Village of NYC, Phil Mortillaro wanted to differentiate his storefront. Approaching an architect years ago, Mortillaro posed the challenge, "what can I do with this place? It looks like any building on Queens Boulevard, I'm proud to be an American, I'd like you to make this a real American building."

In response, the architect proposed a traditional design complete with columns, pediment, arched windows, and a cupola to top it all off. For a 125-square foot space, the façade design could certainly be described as overdone.

Architectural Drawing of Proposed Facade Design

Though the architect's design was approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission and full funding was in place, Mortillaro decided to forego the design, stating “it would have been more Disney World”. So what did the small shop owner do next? Staying loyal to the building he has spent over 40 years in, Mortillaro unlocked his hidden creativity and created the façade redesign all by himself. He spent an entire month cladding the exterior of his shop entirely in keys, creating swirling patterns with deep texture. The photos speak for themselves, the surface effect created by the keys is raw, contextual, decorative, and industrial all at once. We can’t help but admire this seasoned tradesman for his rebel spirit (one that probably leaves architects gasping – he didn’t listen)!

Greenwich Locksmith NYC Key Facade

Old Keys Surface Layer Texture

Old Key Swirl Pattern

Detail of Key Facade

Today we salute Phil Mortillaro for taking matters into his own hands and creating a truly unique façade surface! In this case, homespun treatments inspired by extreme dedication are more compelling than any formal architecture could ever be.

Image credits: Scouting NY, Greenwich Locksmiths

Thursday Salute to Originals: The Rolling Pin Reimagined

GPI Design - Thursday, August 08, 2013

Food prep isn’t normally renowned for its place in cutting edge design. While there are plenty of gadgets and gizmos present in modern day kitchens, they are typically geared toward making things faster, easier, and tastier; appliances usually aren’t admired for pushing the boundaries of design.

However, Masters of Interior Architecture & Retail Design (MIARD) students at the Piet Zwart Institute are working to change that perception by (simply) bringing aesthetics into the culinary world, making cooking a literal art. Using seemingly unrelated media to expand and apply their design theory, students took one of the most tried and true (and relatively unchanged) kitchen appliances – the rolling pin – and completely reimagined its design.

Stamp Design on Rolling Pin Modern Update

Using lasers to cut intricate patterns and designs into the rolling pin itself, the once simplistic kitchen staple is now turned into a giant stamp, effortlessly imprinting modern design into cuisine. Simple traditional use of the rolling pin allows the dough to come alive with texture and pattern. Any cook is instantly turned into an artist; the rolling pin is their brush, the dough is the canvas.

However, aside from the visual appeal, one of the most intriguing things about this redesign is that the function and operation of the rolling pin remain virtually unchanged. In keeping with the appliance’s traditional use, the artwork is applied via the same familiar method of operation: just push and roll. The customary craft is kept intact, while still affording a refreshing and more visually stimulating aesthetic.

Thoughtful and impactful design doesn’t have to be complicated or involve a complete disregard or departure from the original form. Innovative design can elevate and modernize, while still emphasizing traditional form, function, and feeling.

Image credits: Altered Appliances

Thursday Salute to Originals: Simulated Lightning (Harnessing Mother Nature’s Fireworks)

GPI Design - Thursday, August 01, 2013

As we’ve been scouring our favorite design blogs and websites lately, we’ve begun to notice an emerging trend making its way into art and installations. Not a specific material or design motif, but rather a more intangible and seemingly unharnessable energy. A natural phenomenon in itself, it seems to have not only caught the eye of the design world, but is now being replicated and emulated in various forms inspired by its inherent striking beauty – both literally and figuratively. And that phenomenon/trend is (drum roll please)….lightning.


Simulated Electrical Storm at "Giant Serpentine Pavilion"

One of our favorite examples of lightning-inspired art is the Giant Serpentine Pavilion produced through a collaboration of architect Sou Fujimoto and United Visual Artists. Assembled from hundreds of interlocking steel poles and latticed metal, the structure covers 3800 sq. ft. in an intricately dense, yet openly geometric structure. But while the form and patterns created by the structure are interesting enough in and of itself, the pavilion really comes alive when the lights go down, allowing the thousands of embedded LEDs to pulsate and scatter like bolts of lightning streaking through the night sky. The intermittent and randomized flashing makes this structure seem as if it encapsulates an electrical storm itself, even though the effect is completely simulated.

Sou Fujimoto Serpentine Pavilion Intervention from United Visual Artists on Vimeo.


Simulated Lightning at "Incandescent Cloud" Installation

Another one of our favorites is the incandescent CLOUD by Canadian artists Caitlind r.c. Brown and Wayne Garrett. Using thousands of light bulbs – over 6,000 in fact - activated and deactivated by traditional pull strings tugged by visitors within the exhibit, a randomized flashing effect is created. Not only is this installation interactive, allowing patrons to harness the power of the “lightning” by turning off and on various light bulbs at random intervals, but it allows what would normally be a static installation to breathe new life with every passing patron and crowd. There is no pre-programmed timing or sequence of flashes; the installation ebbs and flows with the visitors; the flashes of illumination are organic, much like natural lightning.

CLOUD: An Interactive Sculpture Made from 6,000 Light Bulbs from Caitlind r.c. Brown on Vimeo.


For us, in both of these projects, the most intriguing element is just how authentic this simulated lightning appears. Different structures, different light sources, different forms of control and modes of operation in each, yet both applications elicit and provoke a similar appearance and experience, making you feels as if you are actually watching Mother Nature put on her famous fireworks show.

Thursday Salute to Originals: Marbles Merge Antiquity + Architecture

GPI Design - Thursday, July 25, 2013

If you read last Thursday’s blog post, you’ve probably guessed that we can’t resist a little sparkle. Well, we came across something else this week – this time a new material – that really caught our eye (what can we say, when it comes to shimmer, we’re like a moth to a flame…). But more importantly than catching our attention, this material got us thinking.

BlingCrete™ is a product that embeds concrete with glass spheres (essentially, marbles) to create an unusual surface and building material. Not only does this material reflect light, creating dancing shimmers and shadows across its surface, but it also embodies an interesting texture and pattern that turns simple concrete into a new sensory experience for both the eyes and fingertips.

At the heart of this material, and what makes it so intriguing, are the embedded glass spheres –the marbles. Their small scale, smooth texture, and specific geometry enhance what would otherwise be a common matte surface. So this got us wondering…how did marbles make their way from rolling in sand as a childhood pastime to gracing the most high-profile architectural designs? Where did marbles even come from?

Well turns out, marbles have been around for quite some time; a REALLY long time. In fact, its thought that marbles originated as small rocks polished by rivers and streams, to which the concept was then adapted (sometime around 3300–1300 BCE) to a more “modernized” spherical version fashioned out of stone, clay, flint, and even glass. Ancient Egyptian tombs, Native American burial grounds, and Pueblo ruins have all yielded versions of these prehistoric marbles.

But beyond antiquity, marbles have remained a mainstay in human society. In the middle ages, popularity of marbles as an interactive game soared. And, as time progressed, so did fascination with the little orbs - with the game, their appearance, and their multitude of uses . By the 1800’s factories in Germany began an era of mass production, with popularity of these colorful, shiny spheres peaking in the 1920s and 1930s.

Since then, marbles have retained an international attraction. Whether used as a toy, a piece of jewelry, a collectable, an inspiration for art, or as piece of artwork themselves, their inherent shape, scale, shine, and beauty make these tiny spheres appealing to a multitude of senses, cultures, and purposes.

Given the appeal to these tiny globes over centuries and centuries, it seems it was only a matter of time before the valued inherent characteristics of marbles eventually migrated into the design world. So from ancient streams to modern buildings, we salute marbles for bringing together antiquity and architecture in a completely new and innovative material that reinvents a prehistoric pastime and craft.

Image credits: BlingcreteMuseum of Childhood, WallpaperNo

Thursday Salute to Originals: Chain Link Dreamscape

GPI Design - Thursday, July 18, 2013

They say all that glitters is not gold. But in this case, all that glitters is a chain link fence and some plastic. Intrigued? So were we!

The art installation Unwoven Light by Soo Sunny Park combines completely unglamorous and totally utilitarian chain link fence with filmed Plexiglas to create an absolutely stunning and constantly morphing experience of color, light, shadow, and form.

Unwoven Light Installation Art by Soo Sunny Park

Meticulously wired between openings of suspended chain link fence, thousands of iridescent Plexiglas pieces refract light at limitless angles, bouncing brilliant streaks of hue, illumination, and shadow around the space. As lighting and your position shifts through the undulating forms, so does the visual experience, encapsulating the room and viewers in a surreal and ever-changing array of sparkles.

Reminiscent of glimmering fish scales or iridescent butterfly wings, this dynamic blend of color and light seems almost fairytale-like as the twinkling sculpture projects a hypnotic ebb and flow of rainbowed illumination. For recognizing and revealing the transient power of color and light, we salute Soo Sunny Park's beautifully airy and whimsical installation. Sometimes, everything is better with a little glitter!

Image credits: Soo Sunny Park, Design MilkInternational Sculpture Center

Thursday Salute to Originals - Fashion Worth Staring At

GPI Design - Thursday, July 11, 2013

Even though its summer, it’s been pretty gloomy at our Westlake office lately. All the clouds, rain, and lack of sun are making us a little drowsy; and we’ll admit, we’ve even caught ourselves staring from time to time.

Normally, staring doesn’t accomplish much; fixating your gaze on an object isn’t usually the most effective means of getting things done. (And it certainly isn’t the most proactive pastime when things are as busy as they are around here!) So we were quite intrigued when we stumbled upon a dress that is “activated” just by your stare. Staring can actually accomplish something? We could barely believe our eyes!

Image credit: Ying Gao

Made of super organza and photoluminescent thread, Ying Gao’s (No)Where (Now)Here dresses track eye movement and brighten and pulsate with contact from your peepers. Simply staring at the dress activates the textile, making threads dance and illuminate in a dream-like (and kind of creepy) chorus of movement and light. Never has your gaze been so powerful! (Imagine if staring at piles of shop drawings worked the same way...)

Watch the clip below and see for yourself as these gowns come to life with just with a simple stare.

(no)where(now)here : 2 gaze-activated dresses by ying gao on Vimeo.

How could this concept translate further into the world of architecture and interior design? We think the possibilities for surface design could be endless!

Thursday Salute to Originals – The Red, White, and 70075?

GPI Design - Thursday, July 04, 2013

Emerald Green might be the Pantone Color of 2013, but today, America’s birthday, its all about the red, white, and blue – or more specifically, the 70180, 70001, and 70075.

Yep, that’s right. Like many things in the design world, the American flag has its own specific set of designated colors. The Color Association of the United States, from which the American Government references and specifies colors of the flag, has designated the colors of Old Glory as:

  • Cable No. 70180 - Old Glory Red
  • Cable No. 70001 - White
  • Cable No. 70075 - Old Glory Blue

While these colors are deemed the “official” hues of the flag by the Government, they aren’t the only tones used. The U.S. Government designates 193 and 282 as the Pantone equivalents for the red and blue of the flag. However, other sources, including many printing organizations, specify Pantone 186 and 288 as the patriotic red and blue. Pantone 281 is also frequently used.

So however you celebrate the Fourth of July this year (and whatever color you choose!) enjoy your freedoms and keep your eye on that Grand Old Flag!

Image created/compiled by GPI Design using flag image source

Thursday Salute to Originals: Toying with Material

GPI Design - Thursday, June 27, 2013

As architecture trends towards revealing the inherent origin of materials and their processes, this modern artist defies expectation by doing exactly the opposite. Meet Jeff Koons, an artist from New York who makes granite look like plastic, plaster look like metal, and metal look like a stretched balloon.

Jeff Koons Balloon Inflatable Pop Art

In one avenue of his work, Jeff Koons replicates inflatable objects.  What may appear as cheap plastic decorations are actually made from solid, heavy materials such as granite and plaster. Sculpting the dense media into objects that appear as light at balloons, Jeff plays on your predetermined notions of materiality. In his dissociative works, he substitutes surface in order to block out meaning; Koons keeps the artistic discourse and interpretation to a minimum, letting the consumption of his pieces tell the story.

“One of the main reasons that I work with inflatables is that the aspect of inside/outside—if you look at an inflatable and you think about it, it seems very empty inside,” Koons tells me. “Oh, it’s air in there, so it’s empty. But that moment that your exterior space around you feels denser, it gives you more of a sense of confidence in the world. You think about your own inside. It’s denser. It’s blood, it’s guts, it’s tissue. And so if you’re not around that concept of the inflatable, it’s more of a void out there. Okay? It’s denser inside here than outside. It’s vacuums. But when you’re experiencing an inflatable, for that time, it’s vacuous inside that object and it’s empty inside.” (source: Vulture)

Jeff Koons Art Hybrid Balloon Animals

Koons Yellow Rabbit Metal Twisted Balloon Sculpture

[Balloon animals made with high chromium stainless steel with transparent color coating]

Black Granite Koons Gorilla Sculpture

["Gorilla" made with black granite]

Hulk Inflatable Art Exhibit

[“Hulk (Wheelbarrow)” made with polychromed bronze]

With an elite circle of art aficionados, Koons’ work has a loyal following amongst collectors who can afford the often seven-digit price tags. As his pieces possess a materialistic wonderment that screams of Pop art and an editorial on the culture of commodity, it’s not surprising that Koons has carved out a distinct space “at the top of” (or as some may argue, above) the art market.  Though we sharply disagree with his methodology of rejecting the inherent nature of materials, we salute his strict adherence to it!

Source: Vulture, Jeff Koons, SF Gate, Design Milk

Thursday Salute to Originals: Sun Salutation

GPI Design - Thursday, June 20, 2013

Tomorrow is the summer solstice and what better way to celebrate than to feature a project that harnesses the energy of the sun! The beautiful coastal town of Zadar, Croatia comes to life at sunset via the Sun Salutation piece, a public art installation by Croatian architect Nikola Bašić.

This "circle of light" consists of 300 photovoltaic solar cells installed beneath glass panels to create a dynamic flooring landscape at the water’s edge. The LEDs shift colors and patterns to create a spectacular show that mimics the rhythm of the waves, a breathtaking scene in the evening light.

Nikola Basic Sun Salutation Installation at Croatia Coast

The installation also moves to the sounds of an oceanic musical instrument, the Sea Organ, which was also designed by Bašić. The Sea Organ is built into marble stairs at the edge of the water which emit whale-like noises when waves crash into the marble.

In conjunction with the Sun Salutation piece, Bašić merges the open frontier of the sea with the urban public space. Installed in 2005 after the renovation of the city’s shore front, Sun Salutation produces enough energy to be used for the installation, as well as for the lighting of the entire waterfront.

Solar LED Glass Floor Installation by Nikola Basic

Art Installation LED Lighted Floor with Solar Technology

The Sun Salutation is a unique example of modern technologies coexisting with the natural landscape to create a sense of tranquility and peace, following both the ebb and flow of the ocean and implementing renewable energy sources in an urban context.

As we celebrate the onset of summer, what are you doing to salute the sun?

Image credits: My Modern Met