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Beneath the Surface Blog

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.


Thursday Salute to Originals: Aquatic Artist

GPI Design - Thursday, October 10, 2013

Take a good look at the image below...

Puffer Fish Sand Circle Design

Intriguing, right? Fascinating movement with geometric motifs and radial patterns bursting from the center. Captivating play of shadow and light on the undulating peaks and valleys. Nice balance and symmetry. Someone must have spent significant time developing this concept, and then meticulously executing the design. So who’s behind this artful masterpiece? We’re betting you won’t believe who – or what – the artist is…

Puffer Fish

Yep, that’s right. A fish. This little guy, a 5 inch male puffer fish, is the artist of this amazing underwater sand installation.

Using his pectoral fins, the male puffer fish spends 7 to 9 days laboriously constructing what have been dubbed “underwater crop circles.” Carving radial grooves into the sand, these mounds form elaborate spirographs reaching about 7 feet in diameter. Always an eye for detail, the puffer fish will embellish the edges of his masterpiece with crushed shells and use varieties of sediment to add color to the design. (And we thought designers were particular!)

But what is motivating this little guy to express himself in such an artful manner? Does he just have an urgent need to decorate the ocean floor? Well, not quite. Turns out, this elaborate design is all to attract a female! Female puffer fish are drawn to the circles, where they inspect the design prior to mating. If the female puffer fish deems the circle suitable to her liking, she will lay her eggs on the fine sediment in the center.

But there’s more to these seafloor circles than just looks; there is actual function and specific engineering at the heart of these remarkable designs. The peaks and valleys, while beautiful, are actually a unique funneling system. They channel the fine, female-puffer-fish-approved sediments toward the center of the circle. And at the same time, they reduce speed of flowing water in the center by almost 25%, protecting the vulnerable eggs from washing way in harsh currents. So this awesome aquatic design isn’t just aesthetical, it’s functional. And by a FISH, no less! Mind. Blown.

We salute you little male puffer fish for your determination and artistic prose, and for proving that design is certainly not just for the human species!

Image credits: Blogfish, Treehugger, Conscious Life News, Reefbuilders, Decoded Science

Thursday Salute to Originals: Changing Perspectives on Peace

GPI Design - Thursday, October 03, 2013

Peace Day, which was on September 21st, has already come and gone. But even though it was a couple weeks ago, we couldn’t resist highlighting this amazing installation that is not only visually stunning, but one that emphasizes the need for peace in a moving and perspective-altering way.

The Fallen project, developed by Sandinyoureye (a UK based group specializing in elaborate sand and ice sculptures), took place on Peace Day, where hundreds of volunteers gathered on Arromanches Beach in France to embark on a mission.

Working within a tight window between tides, Sandinyoureye organizers and volunteers hastily stenciled silhouettes into the sand. Meant to serve “…as an example of what happens in the absence of peace”, the astounding 9,000 stenciled forms represent the number of civilians, German Soldiers and Allies that perished during the Normandy Landings of WWII on June 6th, 1944.

The simplicity of the sand as a canvas is underscored by repetition and the sobering quantity of the shadowy outlines. We salute the Fallen Project for creating an overwhelming reminder of the consequences of war and conflict, which is so often, too difficult to quantify and comprehend until you can see it with your own eyes.

Image credits: The Fallen 900

Thursday Salute to Originals: Bubbles

GPI Design - Thursday, September 26, 2013

New material samples arrive to our office on a daily basis. There’s always some up-and-coming or innovative surface, and if it’s translucent, you can bet we’re itching to see it! As we were unwrapping this latest set of samples from their bubble wrap casing, we started thinking...

Bubble Wrap Texture Close Up

Bubbles, those little air-filled pockets, do quite an impressive job at protecting some pretty substantial things when utilized in packaging. But inspiration from bubbles extends further than just packing material. These little guys have fueled creative verve for designs like Alexander O.D. Lorimer’s [ch]air and the infamous Beijing National Aquatics Center (aka "The Water Cube").

Bubble Chair Water Cube Design

So what it is about bubbles that makes them tick? Well turns out, there’s quite a bit a science behind these little vulnerable floating orbs.

Bubbles, at their core are basically, a thin layer of soapy water filled with air. Air is forced into the solution expanding the film outwards creating a unit – the bubble (no big revelations there). But things start to get a little more interesting when you dive a bit deeper.

The spherical shape of a bubble isn’t just by chance. No matter the shape in which it originally begins, a bubble will always try to become a sphere because it reduces surface area, therefore, taking the least amount of effort to maintain (so not only are bubbles delicate, but they are lazy, too!).

Blowing Bubble Formation

An even more interesting is what happens when bubbles collide. When touching, bubbles begin to reorganize and redefine their geometry, merging their walls to reduce the overall surface area. If the bubbles are the same size, the adjoined wall is flat. When two differently sized bubbles combine, the smaller bubble bulges into the larger. And when more bubbles join the party, the walls start to merge at 120° forming hexagonal patterns, similar to that of a beehive.

Soap Bubble Patterns Colliding

For striking a delicate balance between aesthetics, science and childlike whimsy, we salute bubbles for their originality. We’re sure they will continue to inspire for generations to come!

Image sources: Westsell, Design Milk, Cumbu, Wikimedia, Highered Watch, CDN, Mentrepreneurs

Thursday Salute to Originals: Motor Mood

GPI Design - Thursday, September 19, 2013

A bumper sticker is a big commitment. Plastering a message proudly on the back of your vehicle for all to see, bumper stickers allow drivers to express a lot of personality in a small area. So what happens when, in this fast-paced world, you change your viewpoint and want to update your car accordingly? This new invention allows you to change your bumper image as often as you change your Facebook status.

Motor Mood Bumper Sticker Smiley Face Lights

Much like a social media status update for cars, “Motor Mood” is a series of emoticons on your rear window that can be turned on and off at the touch of a button. The smiling, winking, and angry faces can be activated depending on your mood at the moment.

As MotorMood advertises, “Having a good day? Display the happy. Some jerk tailgating? Show your anger. See someone cute in the car behind you? Give them a wink. With MotorMood, driving becomes a little more human and a lot more fun." The expressive faces are made with backlit screens tied to remote control buttons in the sun visor.  In this case, technology is humanizing. MotorMood promises to release more faces to capture the plethora of moods one might want to express while cruising down the freeway.

The social media technology of Mark Zuckerberg meets the automobile era of Henry Ford? We salute the originality, and we’re surprised nobody has thought of this before!

Image credits: Yanko Design

Thursday Salute to Originals: A Guide for the Unlucky

GPI Design - Thursday, September 12, 2013

It may be no big deal that today is Thursday, September 12th, but as soon as the clock strikes midnight, warnings of Friday the 13th superstitions will be flying everywhere.

So what can this unlucky day mean to the design world? Artist and illustrator Kyle Bean created “A Guide for the Unlucky”, a 3D pop up book that illustrates situations that superstitions suggest we avoid. As the reader flips the pages, black cats cross the path, umbrellas open inside a house, mirrors break bringing years of bad luck… the luck worsens with every page. Drawing on the concept of a children’s storybook, Bean infuses black and white graphics with clean text to elevate this message to a high-design level.

We salute black cats, umbrellas, mirrors, and we have even walked under a fair share of ladders out on jobsites... but tonight we are sleeping with our fingers crossed and a lucky horseshoe under our pillow!

Thursday Salute to Originals: Not Street Smart, Smart Streets!

GPI Design - Thursday, September 05, 2013

Cars and their technology are constantly evolving. Though we’re not zipping around in spaceships quite yet, with all the futuristic features available today, it often seems like vehicles aren’t far from morphing into something straight out of the Jetsons. But while there are constant advancements within the vehicles themselves, not much attention has been paid to the paved blacktopped strips on which they maneuver. Until now that is.

Daan Roosengaarde and Heijmans Infrastructure have teamed up, taking on a different approach to the future of travel. Instead of focusing on what we’ll be driving, they have taken a step back to consider what we’ll be driving on. In analyzing how a driving surface can impact and improve the commuting experience, they’ve opened a new dialogue on how we can design our streets to be smarter and more sustainable.

By implementing relatively simple and universal concepts – things like visual cues of light and color - Roosegaarde believes that we can make roads “smart,” where they can actively adapt and respond to driving and traffic conditions, and then communicate that information to drivers.

For example, utilizing a type of glow-in-the-dark medium to line the roads could potentially increase safety at night as the glow would help outline and predict the curvature of the roadway.

Or a dynamic paint that changes with temperature and weather conditions could be used to visually signify hazardous driving conditions to commuters.

We’ll admit, our modern highways are still miles away from the dirt paths that once used for travel. But now, after seeing these concepts for smarter streets, we can’t help but wonder - why didn’t anyone consider this before? We’re guessing it might be a simple case of not being able to see the forest for the trees.

Thanks to Daan Roosengaarde and Heijmans Infrastructure for this fresh perspective on the future of travel, and for (inadvertently) reminding us to take a step back from the details and maintain an open mind and broad perspective.

Image credits: Studio Roosegaarde

Thursday Salute to Originals: The Fruit Fly

GPI Design - Thursday, August 29, 2013

There is usually a bowl of fruit in our office kitchen, and last week we have been so busy on deadlines that we forgot to throw it away! Good thing we caught it in time, the fruit made it to the compost pile just as we spotted a fruit fly buzzing around. It got us talking today, what’s the deal with those pesky little bugs anyways?

Fruit Fly Bananas Cartoon Sketch

The fruit fly is one of the smallest and most determined little creatures around. With an arguably bad reputation, we wanted to turn the tables and explore what's so cool about the fruit fly. Only 2 to 5 millimeters long, fruit flies can travel over 6 miles per day in search of food. Following their strong sense of smell (up to 3/4 mile) to wherever red wine or rotting bananas exist, the insects slither through cracks in screen windows or doors.

The lifespan of the fruit fly is remarkably short. “One mathematician calculated that, given their size (< .25 inches), the number of eggs laid by one female, and their life span, a single pair of fruit flies could, over the span of one year, produce a mass of offspring that, were they all to live that long, would form a sphere whose diameter would fill the space between the Earth and the Sun”, according to Daily Kos. Talk about critical mass!

Fruit Fly Insect Wings Spread Translucent Wings

With such a short life cycle and possessing large chromosomes, the fruit fly is often used in scientific experiments related to heredity. Scientist Thomas Hunt Morgan dedicated much of his experimental career to studying the chromosome patterns of fruit flies. describes, “by painstakingly examining thousands upon thousands of flies with a microscope and a magnifying glass, Morgan and his colleagues confirmed the chromosomal theory of inheritance: that genes are located on chromosomes like beads on a string, and that some genes are linked (meaning they are on the same chromosome and always inherited together). One of his students, Alfred Sturtevant, created the first ever genetic map, a landmark event in genetics."

The fruit fly may be a hardcore partier as well. Studies show that female fruit flies will find respite in alcoholic places when threatened by a wasp - the alcohol is toxic to the wasps but not to the fruit flies (they must have a high tolerance!). And when a male fruit fly fails to mate with a female, he may seek out a fermenting fruit to fill up on alcohol - nursing his heartache, perhaps?

A cunning, compact, and remarkably short-lived creature, the fruit fly is considered a nuisance to most. Today, let’s take on a new perspective and appreciate this little bug for its strengths! Next time you're singing "shoo fly, don't bother me!" at the fruit flies, keep in mind how far that hungry little bug might have traveled to land on your kitchen table.

Sources: WiseGeek, Daily Kos,, Thinking Fountain, NPR

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