City Realty: Jean-Gabriel Neukomm Talks “East Meets West” Design in Flushing Megaproject Tangram
Tangram, named after the popular Chinese puzzle, is one of several new mixed-use developments adding to the real estate boom of Flushing, but its distinction lies in its massiveness, its amenities, and its “East Meets West” design. The neighborhood, which has a longstanding Asian culture and residents who are more likely to own than rent, presented a great opportunity for developers F&T Group (the same co-developers of the nearby Flushing Commons) and SCG America to present something innovative that would also complement the surrounding area. So, they brought in a team led by someone who knew a little something about European and Asian design – award-winning architect and interior designer Jean-Gabriel Neukomm, a former principal with SPAN Architecture whose previous work includes everything from Calvin Klein stores in Singapore and China to the interiors of Downtown Brooklyn’s The Ashland.
CityRealty recently had the chance to chat with Neukomm on his background, his style, and his work for Tangram House, the residential portion of Tangram which features 317 luxury condos.
When did you decide to enter the world of interior design? What drove you to it?
How does the interior design of Tangram House – named after the Chinese puzzle – live up to its name?
How difficult was it to combine your European design background with Flushing’s Asian culture? Was there any overlap?
You and your team immersed yourselves in the neighborhood’s culture for several months – how did that process inspire your design decisions? And is that something you’ve had to do before?
One of my fondest childhood memories was going with my mother to Chinatown in Manhattan, nearly every Sunday. It was something that we both very much enjoyed, and something that stays with me even today. From that experience and many others, I was always fascinated with other influences that find a voice in my work. Certainly, we have done numerous projects in Asia (notably Calvin Klein Collection stores), or for an Asian clientele (LA Metropolis), and those were excellent viewports into the designing more internationally. When we were approached by F&T, I saw this as a great opportunity to put some of my long-term interests into practice, and my team and I, very enthusiastically, researched and spent time in Flushing, experiencing many incredible meals and social gatherings. It influenced our design in the sense that we saw the passion people had for the neighborhood and the reason why it draws so much attention from the international community. These wanderings reinforced my sense that we would want to approach the project in a way that took those passions and sensibilities into consideration.
This is a very typical approach when we do larger projects like Tangram. For LA Metropolis in Los Angeles, we were fascinated and drawn to the neighborhood’s rich Art Deco vocabulary, which we re-interpreted; and recently, for a project in Brooklyn, we took inspiration from many of the landmarks in the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) cultural district to create a narrative of cohesion between the new building and its context.
You’re no stranger to large-scale projects like this one, what’s the first step you take in tackling these spaces?
You’ve designed spaces in NYC and Los Angeles. Are there any discernible differences?
One of the key differences in designing for LA versus New York is obviously the weather – there’s a more literal connection between the indoors and the exterior landscapes in Los Angeles. Spaces can more easily, and literally, be indoor and outdoor. In our region, we want to keep that important connection, but do it through the use of vision glass, and setting up view corridors so that every space has a visual relationship to the outside. This is particularly important at Tangram House given the extraordinary garden on the second floor. This was certainly something we wanted to feature as a backdrop to our extensive amenity spaces.
Another difference is a bit more subtle. When designing in Los Angeles, we embrace the sun culture by generally employing lighter palettes. The classic view of LA is of light and sun, and people want to see that reflected in their homes. In New York, we are able to use a more nuanced palette that sometimes reflects a more nighttime, sophisticated mood. Creating uplifting spaces is of course also important, but we are more likely here to offset those with environments more keyed to dusk and night.