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Published November 9, 2021

A Grand Design

Hickok Cole and GPI Design light up Franklin Square.
GPI Design

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By Tynan Pratumwon
Staff Writer

Hickok Cole enlists GPI Design to execute a grand backlit concept in the lobby of a historic Washington, D.C. office building, Franklin Square.


Designed in the late 1980’s by Philip Johnson, the original Franklin Square embodied the theatrical post-modernist style Johnson gravitated towards in the second-half of his career with twenty-foot-tall fluted columns, marble floors, and bronze grill work canopies. Four decades later, Hickok Cole was tasked with modernizing 30,941 SF of public tenant space to restore Franklin Square’s prominent reputation and street presence, while preserving it’s post-modernist character.

Hickcock Cole enlisted GPI Design, an engineer-build firm known for creating iconic backlit features, to execute a grand backlit concept at the focus of the entire lobby space. The concept? ‘Ribbons’ of light that grace the entryway under four main canopies.


Four massive backlit canopies flow from the exterior ceiling into the lobby, and then down the wall to the floor, drawing the eye — and patrons — further into the space. GPI established a turnkey package from engineering and design, through installation to bring the impressive lighting features to life.


“The backlit environments we design are complex, and intricate. They involve multiple trade disciplines and a scrupulous attention to detail on the build side. To execute a feature as difficult as this, we pulled from years of engineering experience and specific lighting design expertise.” Thomas Lawrence, Founder and Principal of GPI Design.


From the start it was apparent that a mockup for this custom lighting project would be pivotal to a successful outcome, says Lawrence.

“Full sized mock-up trials allow our solutions to be tested and adjusted in practice, well before we depart to install full scale,” he says. “From this intensive exercise we are able to be more efficient onsite and deliver a more cost-effective solution that ultimately performs better.”


GPI was able to study, at full scale, how the glass would be suspended from the custom structure, verify light fixture performance, spacing, arrangement of diffusion elements, and better determine joint sizes and clearances.  


For these custom backlit glass walls and ceilings, the development process included engineering and manufacturing to complete the structural support system in union with the lighting design and surface selection. GPI was able to backlight point-supported glass walls that were pulled out to the front of the building through the ceiling. Their team was also able to design a custom decorative cap able to withstand the structural load while maintaining a minimalistic appearance. For the mockup, GPI created a prototype of the cap using a 3D printer, the final white power coat finish was decided upon later by the architects.

The GPI team’s experience also allowed them to use in-house knowledge to engineer the lighting to eliminate common hot spots, unwanted shadows, unequal light balance, and to include diffusion cavities, dimming control and supplemental lighting elements custom to the needs of the client.


GPI does not take on new projects unless the design team and client agree to actively participate in an extensive mock-up process that the engineers and designers at GPI build themselves, with their own install team. The process not only allows for deeper discovery, but vets alternate system options.  


Fallon Korinko, GPI Studio Director, describes their mock-ups as a “thorough absorption of what can and will happen, before it happens onsite.”   


GPI calculates it has saved its clients hundreds of thousands of dollars last year alone in mock-up reviews. “Had it not been for our day long mock-up with the talented team at Hickok Cole, this project could have proved problematic.”


The team at Hickok Cole enjoyed working with GPI Design. “Their experience and know-how really shined through on this enormous undertaking. The backlit feature walls and ceilings at Franklin Square really take your breath away”.


GPI Design

Custom systems with surface + light
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