The practical and purposeful approach of architect Tommy Zung can be traced back to his childhood. His father, also an architect, was an associate and friend of visionary R. Buckminster Fuller, and Zung overheard their frequent living-room discussions on art and design. “Being a young boy and listening to these conversations at a formative age gave me an understanding of sustainable housing design science, the whole idea that ‘small is big,’ and innovation,” Zung explains.
Zung absorbed these principles and applied them to his own practice. In 2013, he founded STUDIO ZUNG, which focuses on creating stunning—and sustainable—surroundings. “Designing to evoke a sensory environment is what we strive for—speaking directly to landscape, the environment, and nature,” Zung explains of his “modern studio concept,” which in 2015 was named one of the top-10 American architecture firms to watch by Architectural Digest. The studio’s oeuvre includes a range of eco-luxury smart residences, such as a 14,400 square-foot home in Bridgehampton, which features an edible garden, trellised backyard and guest bungalows with separate gardens, and a Montauk beach house with an upside-down configuration and observation decks that provide views of the sand dunes and wetlands.
Sustainable housing design, luxury, and technology are epitomized in his recent Atelier 216, a 3,800 square-foot residence in enchanting Amagansett, a hamlet of East Hampton. The five bedroom, four-and-a-half bath home, which was “inspired by traditional barn design and contemporary architecture,” features 16-foot vaulted ceilings and bi-fold doors that open to a 2,500 square-foot deck, saline swimming pool, and pool house. STUDIO ZUNG also carefully curated the finishes and furnishings—from the reclaimed pine beams to the surfboard in the pool house. All aspects of the home (audio/visual, cameras, heating and cooling, lights, locks, pool, solar system and security) can be controlled with an iPad.
“Sustainability and luxury are born from a mindfulness of the space and site and the relationship to passive design,” Zung tells Inhabit. “True luxury and sustainability comes from merging the client’s way of living with this sense of mindfulness and design.”
Your father was a friend and associate of R. Buckminster Fuller. How did being around him shape your worldview? Or how has his philosophy dovetailed with your own work?
His connection and dedication to the metaphysical through, what he coined, design science— the idea of changing design versus changing man—was the first time I witnessed a deep dedication and compassion for humanity, as well as its connection to science, physics and dimensions. Furthermore, as a young boy I would overhear his conversations with other artists, thinkers, performance artists, etc., that he knew from Black Mountain College about art and design and their relationship to one another. Being a young boy and listening to these conversations at a formative age gave me an understanding of sustainable design science, the whole idea that “small is big” and innovation.
Your concepts often revolve around nature, and have a respect for the landscape and environment. Why is this important to you?
Architecture and creating space to me is successful when it evokes sensory experiences from a being. I believe that while not everyone can understand architecture and form, they can understand their feelings in a space. That feeling is intuitive to one’s nature—you know when you are overwhelmed, when you are in a room that takes your breath away, for instance, or the experience of solitude if you are in a perfectly proportioned space. These sensory correlations come naturally to me and designing to evoke a sensory environment is what we strive for—speaking directly to landscape, the environment and nature. Bucky always taught me that in anticipatory design science one of the first principles is utilizing nature’s force. This is what you now call passive or sustainable housing design, the whole idea of bringing the inside out and the outside in.
For which of your projects do you think you best brought the inside out and the outside in?
Our Bridgehampton house on Meadowlark Lane is a great example. The residence was a complete sea change and shift to modernism and sustainability, specifically designed for a four-season life. Everything in the house lends itself to this idea: the edible garden, trellised backyard, guest bungalows with separate guest gardens and facades with bi-folding and uninterrupted doors. The residence very much blurs the lines between the indoors and outdoors.
What was the inspiration for Atelier 216?
Atelier 216 is inspired by a traditional barn design and contemporary architecture, along with striking a balance of authentic Hamptons architecture and modern design. The site plays a huge role in Atelier 216, so it was important for us to respect the local heritage and legacy of the Hamptons, while also infusing it with relevant and innovative design. Beyond the actual construction integrity and design of the home, we wanted to build a residence where all the homeowner needed was the Atelier iPad—the entire house runs conveniently from the device—and you’re ready to move in. Every detail has been taken care of; you just need to show up. We even have surfboards in the pool house.
Are these STUDIO ZUNG surfboards? Why was it important to you to make surfboards, in addition to your other work?
Yes, they are STUDIO ZUNG surfboards. I grew up in California, and have surfed for years, and almost everyone at the studio surfs. The surfboards were a natural expression and progression of the studio’s lifestyle of simplicity, extraordinary design and functionality. The boards are handmade in California by accomplished shapers, who have fine-tuned their craft and produced a product that is respectful to our inspiration. It was important because, like a residence or home, surfing gives a sensorial experience that is personal and human and gratifying. Surfing is very much part of the STUDIO ZUNG lifestyle.
What’s next? Do you have more Ateliers planned?
We have two new Ateliers in development: a lakefront acre property in Montauk, as well as a two-acre compound in the Amagansett Devon Yacht Club area. It’s an incredibly exciting time for us, and we are looking forward to constantly pushing the boundaries and creating elegant, luxurious, extremely stylish and tech-inspired residences
Learn more about Atelier 216, 216 Cranberry Hole Road, Amagansett here.