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Beneath the Surface Blog


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

Thursday Salute to Originals: Urban Sketching

GPI Design - Thursday, June 12, 2014

What we consider to be art is constantly changing. On an individual basis we may be more open to what that term encompasses. However, as a society, we can sometimes be unwilling to understand and accept a piece as an artistic work. Abstract art, for example, is at times discredited and not seen for what it truly is: Art.

Society can be strict about the definition of art.  In reality, art is defined as, “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” Urban sketching is a prime example of an art form that is underappreciated.

The concept is very simple; however, to master the technique takes practice. Urban sketching involves a sketchbook, a scene, and a creative eye. While many forms of art, such as realism and romanticism focus heavily on details and depicting a scene with complete accuracy, urban sketching focuses on something more than literal visuals.

One area which urban sketching focuses is capturing the feeling of the scene. It searches for a way to make the viewer feel the emotion and even the physicality of the sketched area.

Campanario Urban Sketching Art

Urban sketching also focuses on human interaction. The artist picks out interesting patterns of motion and exciting people. He or she shows the way the people interact with others, as well as the space and architecture around them.

Rolf Schroter Urban Sketch Streetscape

And finally, urban sketching focuses on general form. Rather than convey specific details, the sketch attempts to gather all of the massing information in a scene quickly. This gives the viewer a general suggestion of the scene without taking away from the focus of sketching.

Since about 2007, urban sketching has become wildly popular. It was popularized on Flickr by Gabriel Campanario. He started by posting his urban sketches on the site and over time, his Flickr became popular enough that he decided, in 2009, to start the Urban Sketchers - a casual group that gets together to recreate interesting areas, people, and structures through sketch. Now there are hundreds of Urban Sketch groups all over the country.

Being an Urban Sketcher is a way of life. In the below video The Life of an Artist –  Adebanji Alade talks about how hard he has worked to get to the urban sketching skill level he is at currently. He preaches, “Draw, draw, draw, and draw to be happy.”Hours of work go into developing an individual style of sketching.

The Life of an Artist - Urban Sketcher, Adebanji Alade from Urban Sketchers on Vimeo

This sketching style create one of a kind art pieces that may never grace the wall of any museum, but does this make the results any less "art"? That is for you to decide.

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Sources: Urban Sketchers, The Art of Urban Sketching, Vimeo Urban Sketchers, Gabriel Campanario on Flickr, Oxford Dictionaries

Image credits: Rolf Schroter, Seattle Times, Urban Sketchers, Culture Vixen

Thursday Salute to Originals: Icy Illumination

GPI Design - Thursday, May 29, 2014

Working as custom designers and builders, we’re used to being up against challenging conditions on our projects. Hurdles such as a demanding schedule, a tricky surface, or a remote jobsite are common in our work, and half the fun is overcoming each one as we move from design through construction. But even after jumping through all those hoops (and sometimes nearly pulling out our hair!), the ultimate reward is when we can finally stand back and admire the backlit feature in all its glory; each project is truly a labor of love. So in drawing from our own experiences, we couldn’t help but empathize with what a feat two photographers managed to accomplish with a little ingenuity, patience, and an unwavering vision.

For an automobile advertisement image shoot, Russian photographers Dmitry Chistoprudov and Nikolay Rykov overcame extreme conditions to illuminate a frozen lake. Yes, you read that right. These two masterminds transformed a body of water into a glowing surface.

As you can imagine, this task didn’t come without its own unique set of challenges. For starters, the sheet of ice they indented to backlight was quite thick. In order to illuminate the fissures within the ice, Chistoprudov and Rykov had to partner with local fisherman to dig into the 1m (3.28 ft) thick ice surface. Once a hole was created, an underwater high output light source was carefully inserted beneath the ice and put into position.

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But challenges didn’t end there. The fishermen digging the hole had worn spiked shoes and trod all over the surface. This left distracting pock marks across the ice. So the dedicated photography duo went to work using water and scrubbing down the surface to remove the blemishes, making it immaculate again. Chistoprudov and Rykov lamented that they spent hours beautifying the surface prior to capturing the image.

After all the hard work and unexpected hiccups, the creative team finally achieved what they set out to do. The result: a glowing plane of ice with an unexplainable energy. The final imagery portrays the ice as sleek, glassy, and powerful - fitting qualities to sell an automobile. And it was all done in a budget of only $140! (Though does anyone else think the setting is more fitting of something a little more luxurious than the fairly typical four door sedan pictured? We could easily envision this as the backdrop for a souped-up sports car or even as a high-end fashion runway!)

The illumination of cracks and fissures in a natural material, and the random issues Chistoprudov and Rykov had to resolve on the fly, really tugs on our heartstrings here. Their project reminds us of the unpredictable beauty in our onyx panels, those energetic natural characteristics that come to life when backlighting is introduced. And the amount of hard work, constant dedication, and improvisation they endured throughout the project reinforces our belief that all the unexpected challenges really are all worth it in the end. For harnessing the energy of nature, illuminating it in all its glory, and never wavering from their vision, we salute these warm-blooded photographers!

Image credits: The Creators Project

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?