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Beneath the Surface Blog


Thursday Salute to Originals: What is a Photo Worth?

GPI Design - Thursday, August 14, 2014

A picture is worth a thousand words, or so they say. But lately, with the inundation of photography and image-capturing technology around us, photos seem to be a dime a dozen; we don’t even recognize them as special moments captured in time anymore. Sadly, most photos today are worth only one word: apathetic.

When we came across two photo series that actually made us stop and think (in very different ways), we were instantly intrigued. And when we realized that these collections, though vastly different at their core, actually embodied a common message, we were even more enthralled.

Take for instance, the History in Color series of color-restored historical photographs by artist Dana Keller.

Coney Island, New York, ca. 1905

Looking strictly at the black and white original, it's easy to disconnect from the picture; the content seems unrelatable, dated, alien. But when Keller restores these historical photos in full color, she completely alters the perception of the image.

Waldwick Train Station, ca. 1903

The dichotomy of the black and white photo and its color counterpart brings the past to life, abruptly reminding us that history was not experienced in desaturated monotone. The world was perceived just like it is today in bright, vivid colors, textures, and patterns. And often, that simple likeness is forgotten or underestimated. But these photos remove that misconception, and reveal a startling – and vibrant! – connection between generations.

CONVERSELY, the Digital Ethereal project by designer Luis Hernan, reveals something entirely different. Instead of highlighting similarities of the world past and present, Hernan’s photos expose an invisible realm that exits around us, one we can’t see, touch, or directly experience.

Using a slow shutter speed camera and a phone app, Hernan is able to create a visual representation of these covert Wi-Fi fields. The app, which indicates Wi-Fi strength by color, shows signal locations and their respective intensities when captured on film. So not only do Hernan’s photos reveal that are we constantly surrounded by an invisible technological cloud, of which we are blissfully unaware; but more importantly, the photos force us to acknowledge the fact that just because we can’t see something with the naked eye, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Now you may still be scratching your head, wondering how these two polar opposite photo collections relate; what is their common worth? After all, one highlights the past in a revived historical context, while the other displays the advancement of technology in a sci-fi kind of way. But their semblance and value lies not in the subject of the photos. The similarity is really in the underlying message at the heart of each collection: The way in which you perceive a photo at face value, may be vastly different from the reality of how that moment was and is actually experienced.

For providing a refreshing reprieve from the overwhelming swarms of monotonous imagery we’re inundated with day in and day out, we salute both of these thought-provoking series. Hopefully the next time you pose for that selfie, you’ll remember the underlying message of these two collections, and consider the face value of your photo versus its fundamental worth.

Image credits: Dana R. Keller, Peta Pixel

Thursday Salute to Originals: Childhood Scribbles, Grown Up

GPI Design - Thursday, July 31, 2014

It looks like the end is near... the end of summer that is. While we’re not quite into August yet, it seems signs of fall are already creeping in – slightly cooler breezes, earlier sunsets, and dreaded back-to-school specials are looming. The latter is probably the most daunting. Most of us in the office have been out of school for at least a few years now (some more than others), but we all remember heading back to the classroom with a new backpack and fresh box of crayons, and the definitive end it brought to summer fun.

Luckily, though, we stumbled upon an art series called Kiddie Arts, which has rekindled our back-to-school spirit, and our love for crayons and uninhibited young minds!

Kiddie Arts Telmo Whale Sketch

In a nostalgic stroke of genius, the Dutch artist Telmo Pieper revisited some of his favorite childhood doodles and reinterpreted them as a grown man with a modern set of crayons (aka digital editing technology).

Honoring his childhood creations, the overall silhouette of the animal or object remains unchanged. Telmo then meticulously details the body and background, turning what was once a fleeting adolescent scribble, into a stunning combination of matured presence and childlike whimsy.

But while this series is light-hearted, it has caused quite a deep discussion around the office: What could we generate from our own childhood drawings, looking at them now with fresh, wiser, older eyes? Could those strange kindergarten scribbles be translated into inspiration for a new building façade? Or could that wacky invention we envisioned as a kid actually come to life now with all the advancements in modern technology? Maybe our former, younger selves could impact and reinvigorate our current perspectives? Maybe we knew something back then that we’ve lost touch with now?

Today, we salute Telmo. Not only for validating and reinvigorating childhood creations in a newfound way, but for reminding us that our former selves can still very much influence the design sensibilities and aesthetic points-of-view we hold as established adults.

Maybe heading back to school isn’t so bad after all?

Image credits: Telmo Pieper

Thursday Salute to Originals: Adobe Ink & Slide

GPI Design - Thursday, July 24, 2014

Drawing? Sketching? Doodling? They’ve got an app for that! These days there is an app for just about anything you could think of. New technology happens daily all around us, but when it is geared towards the design process, we might pay a bit more attention. Gone are the days of paper and pencil sketching, or mapping out footprint plans with a pencil and T-square. Adobe has recently introduced its new cloud pen (ink) and digital ruler (slide).

These two tools serve as a completely new way to draw and sketch on the iPad. Both tools can be used with two new apps - Adobe Line, a straight line drawing app (think rulers, T-squares, and triangles), and Adobe Sketch, which is an art app. Even if you wouldn’t consider yourself a designer or artist, you can use the tools and apps to doodle or use the Ink as a regular stylus to navigate around your iPad.



With this duo, Adobe created a completely new way to draw and sketch using current technology. This is an ideal asset for doodles, designing on the go, on-site editing, and so much more. Say you’re out in the field and you come up with an idea…sketch it. Then you have something you need to look up online…use the search engine. I bet your notepad and pen couldn’t connect an idea with background research so quickly!

Today we salute the creators of the Ink and Slide. With new technology options such as this, they are broadening the way in which we are able to practice and execute design in an increasingly mobile culture. These devices may be small, but they pack a powerful punch in bringing inspiration to your fingertips.

Image credits: Design Milk

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