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Beneath the Surface Blog

Thursday Salute to Originals: Whimsical Winged Lights

GPI Design - Thursday, March 29, 2012

You blink for a moment. As your eyelids lift to reveal the scenery again, you thought you just missed witnessing a flock of huge birds shining with light storm through the hotel lobby. Their tails left traces that were still sparkling in the thin air. But when you close and open your eyes again, they are still there.

That’s the dramatic illusion artist Ayala Serfaty created with her light design, Nana 200. The Nana 200 is part of her Jewel Collection, an arrangement of elegant and lyrical suspended kinetic mobiles intended for public spaces. The mobile structure allows the creation of variable composition of shades. The shades sway as if blown by a breeze and their movement creates a magical environment.

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The lamps are covered in textiles of various hues and illuminated with compact fluorescent light fixtures.

Red Suspended Wing Light Fixture MobilePin It

The shape and free-style arrangement of Nana 200 set it apart from other mundane and motionless pendants.

Suspended Beige Wing Shaped Light Fixture MobilePin It

Nana 200 Suspended Light FixturePin It

Apparently free from the grips of gravity, these lighting creations animate spaces with their fleeting expressions of permanent memories. How would you design an interior lobby space to adequately respond to and create a home for these unique creations?

Image Credit: Aqua Gallery, Planhomedesign

Thursday Salute to Originals: Colorful Backlit Animated Ceilings by Jean Nouvel

GPI Design - Thursday, March 15, 2012

Today we are looking one incredibly unique hotel ceiling. It’s a burst of bright colors, an underwater world over the top of your head, a focal point of the city at night, and even a salute to contemporary art.

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The Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom hotel in Vienna, Austria is designed by French architect Jean Nouvel. He invited Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist to create five backlit ceilings with custom art graphics at five areas of the building, which include the ceilings of the hotel entrance, the ground floor, and the top floor. Nouvel wanted Rist to introduce vivid colors to this minimal architecture remaining predominantly in shades of gray and black. The glazed façades on both the ground floor and the top floor are created as fine and transparent as possible so that the backlit ceilings become beacons from the outside.

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With an education background in Commercial Art and Visual Communications, Pipilotti Rist is a master of visual stimulation. Her exhibitions and video installations usually involve huge amount of bold bright colors and unconventional video shots. When asked the design inspiration for these hotel ceilings in an interview, Rist said she and her team decided on the themes of “gravity” and “the history of perspective” pretty naturally. Inspired by the Trompe-l'œil tradition, the five images for the ceilings show scenes viewed from below: from underwater over the banks of a pond, or up through tree branches away from the world towards the sky.

"Guests should feel welcome and inspired. If they come back to the hotel again, there’s plenty of detail to discover in the artworks. When they look at the ceiling, guests and staff should feel uplifted and grow taller", Rist explained.

The artful backlit ceiling makes the restaurant on the top floor a place where everyone would love to hang out or just to have a unique dining experience. We are absolutely blown away by the pure aesthetics of these artistic ceiling surfaces and their close interface with the architectural design. We feel so strongly drawn to this project because it is a manifestation of what we believe in, that creating a signature backlit piece is more than a lighting source; it can become the expression or icon of an entire building.  

Image Credits: Miss Viki Secrets, Dezeen, Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Thursday Salute to Originals: Illuminated Rope by Christian Haas

GPI Design - Thursday, March 08, 2012

One of the best things about window-shopping is that you never know what you’ll run into around the next corner. Would it be a boutique store that has handmade artisan jewelry and abstract paintings, or a mainstream fashion brand with an ultra-modern window display (and sexy models)? I’m sure people who walk by Colette in Paris would all slow their steps, take a closer look inside this window, and be amazed by how lighting can transform an ordinary object into a piece of art.

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This unique lamp collection, “Ropes”, is the brainchild of Paris-based designer Christian Haas. The ropes are designed to create an innovative light source and distinctive design object by combining a tactile material and energy-efficient technology.  Each of the lamps is handmade with a silky textile cord wrapping around LEDs, emitting a warm glow.

Haas describes the design concept as “Unlit, the lamps provide a graphic statement to their environment. Lit, they diffuse a gentle ambient light.”

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This design pays homage to ropes that have been historically associated with lamps and lighting. In the days when people were using gasoline lamps, they would dip a rope in the gasoline and burn the rope in order to illuminate a space. With the development of LED technology, we can now actually put the light inside a rope (and surely the LEDs have a longer lifespan than a burning rope)!

We think rope material is a creative medium or container for lighting. When lit, it's unexpected, sure to stop some in their tracks or at least turn some heads.  If you are designing a signature lighting piece, how will you choose the right medium? What are the factors you need to consider? We'd love to hear your thoughts!

Image Credit: haasdesign, designboom

Thursday Salute to Originals: An Illusory Point of View

GPI Design - Thursday, March 01, 2012

Anamorphic Illusion Art InstallationPin It

Photoshop? No, this is all real painting!

Switzerland-born artist Felice Varini has spent the past 30 years creating what’s called Anamorphic Illusion. This brilliant street art form is defined by a single vantage view point from which the viewer can see the complete painting, while from other view points the viewer will see fragmented shapes.

“Generally I roam through the space noting its architecture, materials, function and history”, Varini explains. “From these spatial data and in reference to the last piece I produced, I designate a specific vantage point for viewing from which my intervention takes shape.”

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Felice Varini Triangle Art Installation IllusionPin It

What we find particularly appealing about Varini’s work is that quite frequently, he uses gorgeous Italian and French architecture as his canvas for painting. The concrete historical buildings and archways melt into the background and create a dramatic contrast with the modern and abstract geometric patterns.

Felice Varin Building Art Installation in NimesPin It

When seen from the intended vantage point, the painted pattern doesn’t interrupt the existing space and surfaces. That’s why our mind tricks us to think it’s been photoshopped onto the picture. However, the physical presence of the lines and shapes interestingly alters our perception of that space when we move away from the “right” view point.

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Varini's installations can be likened to the long-awaited arrival at a design solution, or the calculated theatrical execution of architectural spaces. Have you ever struggled to navigate all of the pieces of a design puzzle, then suddenly in a magical moment they all fall into place?

Image Credits:

Thursday Salute to Originals: Sculptural Furniture by Baltasar Portillo

GPI Design - Thursday, February 23, 2012
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It might be hard to tell what this abstract structure is at first sight. Artist Baltasar Portillo's unique collection, Armadillo and Lodge Chair, is a statement of his interpretation on functional sculpture. A native Salvadorian, Baltasar is currently working in Europe. We are honored to have Baltasar share his ideas behind this inspirational collection. 

gpidesign: What is your inspiration behind the Armadillo and Lodge Chair collection?

Baltasar: I wanted to create subtle sculptural accents that you could see through them, and not interrupt your view of the space, but at the same time to have a strong sculptural presence as you focus on the piece. I have always been very fond on the work of Sol Lewitt, and somehow, I try to translate his language in my own words to create my pieces.

gpidesign: So when a viewer is looking at your pieces, what do you want him or her to see?

Baltasar: I often hear so many debates of the difference between art and design or art and function, personally, I don’t see any difference, and I hope the public will understand this approach when they look at my work. My work is not a piece of furniture where you will sit and read the entire Sunday paper. It is a piece you make a statement with, it is a throne, where you sit down and enjoy your success, or simply look at it as an sculpture.

gpidesign: The architectural form of the above Armadillo chair reminds us of a spanning bridge. How did you work with geometry in these chairs?

Baltasar: The geometry is the results of a language I love to use and the necessity to support the structure of the piece. The process of the creation of the pieces, is spontaneous. Although there is a central idea before starting the construction of the piece. There is no pre-designing in the manufacturing process, but rather the exploration of the artist momentum of creativity . 

The process of creation begins by imagining a form and deconstructing it, but the form changes as the structural issue to support the form becomes relevant arriving to the form dictated by the need of the structure to support itself and this is pure geometry.

gpidesign: How would you draw the line between functional sculpture and pure artistic sculpture?

Baltasar: Some people say that art should communicate something, that it should be meaningful, that art has no use, that if you can sit on it, it's not art. I believe that there is no line between the different arts, now days, it just depends on how you want to perceive it. Kids are usually the best curators, because they have no preconceptions, they follow emotions and to me that is what art should do: create some sort of emotional contact with you, without having to go into a deep philosophical explanation to determine what does the piece means.

Our most sincere appreciation to Baltasar Portillo for sharing his insights with us. We hope to work on a project which is lucky enough to be home to one of your chairs! You can visit if you want to see or purchase the Armadillo and Lodge Chairs. 

Image Credits: outdoorzgallery

Thursday Salute to Originals: The Incredible Art of Eggshell Carving

GPI Design - Thursday, February 16, 2012

Eggshell carving is an incredible craft technique that involves extreme attention to detail and patience. Eggshell carving artists usually devote hundreds of hours of practice and work into perfecting carving skills and creating intricate eggshell sculptures. Brian Baity is one of them and today, we are looking at some of his custom works.

Brian’s carved eggshell portfolio includes ostrich egg, rhea egg, emu egg, and goose egg. He knows the characteristics of each kind of eggshell very well and is able to bring out their beauty with his artistic vision; his "imagination provides unlimited opportunities to influence and transform an accidental broken egg into a graceful, exquisite finished art piece.”

By altering carving techniques, Brian creates different textures on eggshells. The polished and smooth surface of this calla lily set it apart from the rest of the porous eggshell.

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Rhea eggs (rheas are flightless birds native to South America) are on average less than half the size of ostrich eggs. This particular work is inspired by pathways in Chinese and Japanese gardens. The voids resemble large rocks while small perforations are stone pathways. Through the marriage of the egg shape and the circular form for the path, Brian is expressing that “all things come back to their point of origin; sooner or later.”

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Emu Eggs

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Like we’ve all experienced, behind each successful piece of work is devotion and a process of trial and errors. No matter if it’s as small as an eggshell or big as a 15 foot long backlit table (watch our build process here), the creation process can be painstaking but the result will make all the hard work worth it.

Does this remind you of any challenging project you have successfully accomplished? Was the devil in the details? We’d like to hear about it!

Image Credits: Brian Baity

Thursday Salute to Originals: Dare to Imagine

GPI Design - Thursday, February 09, 2012

Once in a while, there will be an artist who challenges our imagination and understanding of design. Some blogs call Nancy Fouts’s artworks “Surrealism” because her sculptures always comprise of two totally unrelated objects. Looking at the following images, I'm so intrigued to figure out the connection between the objects and materials she used in each work even though there might be none. Usually, for the purpose of reconstruction, objects would be broken down into elementary factors like texture, shape, size, or color before they are reassembled. Clearly, Nancy has a unique vision. She said: "I hoard stuff in boxes and then I lay it all out and many ideas happen like that." (BBC)

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Sculptures like "Butterfly Dart" or "Cactus Balloon" hold a trace of delicacy in their dominant toughness. Nancy captures the essential character of each component and marries them to create unexpected statements. For me, it is so much fun to think about the possibilities of designing backlit projects without considering technique restraints or the law of physics.

Let's imagine away. If you were given the chance to design anything you want with absolutely no rules or constraint, what would it be?

Image Credits: Nancy Fouts

Thursday Salute to Originals: Paper/Origamic Architecture

GPI Design - Thursday, January 26, 2012

We rarely talk about paper art in this blog, mainly because the architectural industry doesn’t generally regard paper as a material suited for construction sites and we are more excited to see designs with materials such as natural stone, glass, wood, and resin. However, paper is still important to the GPI Design team in the design and drawing phase. (Any designers who have eliminated sketching in the creative process in favor of computer programs? We move back and forth between physical model, sketches, and CAD.)

The paper art we are looking at today is called Paper Architecture, according to the artist, Ingrid Siliakus. It refers to the art of creating an object out of a single piece of paper. This particular art form, which is also known as Origamic Architecture, is developed by a famous Japanese artist Masahiro Chatani and was first used in designing greeting cards or holiday cards.

The subject of Ingrid’s work ranges from the world’s renowned architecture buildings to abstract sculptures. Each object is just one single paper and can be folded back into a flat plane. (If I’m lucky, I probably can cut out a snowflake with one piece of paper. A whole 3-D building?!). Ingrid describes the process of outlining, cutting, and folding each paper as building a real structure, the construction of which requires intense attention to detail.

paper architecture big city detail

‘Big City’, 2011. The lower part of one of the four sides.Pin It

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Cosmopolitan third edition, 2011.Pin It

Palicio del marques de Salamanca, 2007. Pin It

Concert Hall, 2003. The actual building is a design of Frank Gehry. Pin It

When we are all busy drawing our skyscrapers on the computer, it’s refreshing to see someone who creates hers out of plain paper by hand. Ingrid’s paper architecture reminds us that dedication to craft, precision work, and unleashing the potential of material can create statement pieces.

Thursday Salute to Originals: Incorporate Perception into Design

GPI Design - Thursday, January 19, 2012

What is good design? Asking this is like asking “What’s your favorite food?” or “What’s your favorite movie”? Throw the question out there and you will hear a thousand answers. The definition of good design is very subjective and almost nonnegotiable. In the end, as individuals, we all look at the same matter from different perspectives and based on different sets of aesthetic values.

Designers understand the meaning of “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” better than most. Today we highlight two designs that cleverly play with the viewer’s perspective in their artistic expressions.

In this installation CT Umbra created by Nondesigns for Lexus, viewers are invited to walk around and experience the sculpture from all sides. It was comprised of 2,500 half-inch anodized aluminum bars. When seen from the front, it’s a luxurious golden Lexus. When you walk to the rear, the car gradually turns into light green and blue appearing more eco-friendly. The two concepts that define the Lexus brand, luxury and hybrid, are well-perceived.

CT Umbra by Nondesigns Pin It

In the interior design world, designers and artists are also considering how to make their design unique from their audience’s viewpoint. The following installation by Matt Bilfield will make a signature décor piece on any living room wall. It is named “Peggy” and is a recreation of Roy Lichtenstein’s pop art painting. The painting technique, divisionism, is taken away from its traditional medium paper to be applied in a 3D form. Over 2,700 hand cut, sanded, and painted dowels are used to create this art piece. The physical installation is right there and the final step to turn it into a complete artwork all depends on you, the viewer. How exciting is that!

Peggy by Matt Bilfield Pin It

In our last blog post, we mentioned that we love to work with natural stone materials because they remind us of so many beautiful things in nature. From one certain angle, this particular pattern looks like the sunset sky, and from another, it is the roaring ocean. Perception generates inspiration. Our brains are looking forward to being stimulated by our eyes more often.

Image credits: TheCoolHunter, Matt Bilfield

Thursday Salute to Originals: Lacquer Wares, An Ancient Art Invention

GPI Design - Thursday, January 12, 2012

On Tuesday of this week, we shared on Twitter some amazing three-dimensional goldfish art pieces painted by a Japanese artist Riusuke Fukahori and we all loved it. There’re always some ancient oriental art forms and techniques that just never fail to wow us. I came across this collection of Japanese lacquer wares which was on exhibition during New York’s Asia Week 2011 and was totally blown away.

Lacquer is a liquid exuded from certain lacquer trees growing in East Asia that dries and darkens in color (another definition is "a liquid made of shellac dissolved in alcohol, or of synthetic substances", according to the dictionary). It produces a durable coating for wood or metal and can be polished in any sheen level desired. Modern application of lacquer onto furniture can add a hint of exotic touch to highlight those pieces and make them stand out.

Above: Sun and Moon Box,Yoshio Okada (b. 1977)

This elegant-looking cherry blossom writing box (intended to store ink stone and brush) is coated with high-quality polished black lacquer with a décor of cherry blossoms all over its five sides. Cherry blossom is the national flower of Japan and it stands for transient beauty. The flower petals are painted with gold lacquer of two tones.

Above: Cherry Blossom Writing Box, Anonymous lacquer artist

The Deer Writing Box is painted in a gold lacquer ground and the deer are formed in carved mother-of-pearl and pewter. The inside cover is decorated with a stylized current in inlaid pewter.

Above: Deer Writing Box, Soeki (ac. Meiji period)

The Japanese seem to have a special interest in goldfish. What’s a better medium than black lacquer to bring this little creature’s color and movement to life? The contrast in color and the placement of the swimming goldfish on top and sides make the whole tea caddy playful yet graceful.

Above: Koi Tea Caddy, Mushu Yamazaki (b. 1966)

I’m very intrigued by the glossy finish lacquer creates on these wood surfaces, reflecting light and making the object appear more rare.  Here at GPI, we are all about innovative surfaces. So I can’t help thinking maybe lacquer can be applied to certain translucent surfaces to be used for backlighting and it may produce unexpected results. Have you ever seen any backlit panels that incorporated lacquer? Or do you think it would be a possibility? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

(To read more on this Japanese lacquer ware collection, please visit and download Erik Thomsen’s article “Golden Treasures: Japanese Gold Lacquer Boxes”)

Image Credits: Erik Thomsen, “Golden Treasures: Japanese Gold Lacquer Boxes”