The Fulton, USA

November 5, 2019

Yabu Pushelberg delivers The Fulton – a seafood driven restaurant steeped in the history of maritime commerce with a Jacques Coustaudian dash of adventure.

Pier 17, the site of the original Fulton fish market in New York, has stood at the East River waterfront for more than 300 years. Its big brother now resides above Fulton Street in the financial district, second in size only to Tokyo Tsukiji fish market, and turns over a billion  US dollars a year in annual profit. 

In its place, Yabu Pushelberg has teamed up with Michelin-starred chef Jean-George Vongerichten to dream up an homage to the heyday of the fish market. The result is The Fulton, a seafood driven restaurant steeped in the history of maritime commerce and a Jacques Coustaudian dash of adventure. The Fulton comprises of two-levels, featuring a public and private dining room, bar, outdoor terrace, cocktail and oyster bar.

It was a friendly project, Glenn Pushelberg tells darc, a partnership between friends and professionals with phoenix-like origins.

“It all really started from our relationship with our New York neighbour, Jean-George Vongerichten,” explains Pushelberg. He had called them up to help design a space in a ‘really handsome’ Richard Meier building, but the project never moved past the planning stages. ‘Although the project didn’t move forward, we were still so intrigued by the building that we ended buying a unit in the tower above and making it our home in New York!”

“It’s a bit funny how it all came about,” adds George Yabu, “If it wasn’t for that failed restaurant project, we wouldn’t be neighbours with Jean-Georges now and designing his new seafood restaurant at the Seaport. Everything happens for a reason.”

The designers knew from the offset it would be a special project – Vongerichten’s first venture into a seafood-focussed restaurant, it also holds a special place in the making of his own personal history. As a young chef, he used to scour the market stalls to select the freshest catch of the day. “His memories, the ingredients and the 300-year-old history of Pier 17 formulated how we wanted to design the restaurant,” says Pushelburg.

“We took into consideration how Pier 17 was used over the generations – as a space to bring fresh food and people together,” further adds Yabu. “Generations later, The Fulton was designed to transport guests back to this time and to this feeling.”

The result is a modern warehouse exterior, inspired by the fish market, that shifts into an underwater theme within. The walls are covered with dream-like murals by the architect and artist collective En Viu, who have conjured up oceanic scenes that go against the usual cliches of fish-nets and sea monsters.

“We needed to elevate this idea and create a design language that is worthy of Jean-Georges, the location and the sea-to-table ingredient ethos,” explains Pushelburg.

In order to do this, the design team placed particular emphasis on decorative lighting. The aim was to make everything feel warm, welcoming and intimate, and decorative lighting was the fundamental element required to establish this. Envisioning a sea of ceramic buoys, Yabu Pushelberg suspended pendant lighting from the ceiling by sailing ropes at varying heights. The idea was to create a visual rhythm that resembled the ebb and flow of buoys in the harbour.

One expansive art piece, it branches out across both levels to create a warm, intimate glow. Placed at the centre of the room, guests can look up and admire the detail, or simply get lost in the glow illuminating the face of the person sitting opposite them. Other small features include illuminated columns that double up as coat hooks, whilst simultaneously accentuating the glow of the hanging pendants. Considerable time was spent deliberating on how to give decorative lighting a moment in the spotlight, to make sure it looked like an art piece rather than just another fixture.

“The ceramic pendants were designed in our studio in conjunction with the ceramicist Alissa Coe,” says Yabu. “We also worked with Allied Maker on other custom lighting pieces in the restaurant; the project would not be the same if it wasn’t for the emphasis we placed on the lighting.” 

The goal, according to Yabu, was to create a moody, intoxicating romantic glow that touches every single space of The Fulton. A cohesion so well suited for the menu and interiors, that it shapes the complete experience. “You can’t taste light,” he says, “but that’s what we were aiming to do.” The purpose of each space was considered carefully, and the designers used dimmers and backlighting to accomplish this sense of cohesion between the different areas.

There was also a keen focus on the reciprocal relationship between decorative lighting and architectural lighting. 

Pushelberg explains: ‘“Although it may look like the decorative lighting is doing the heavy lifting, it’s typically an allusion and the architectural lighting is doing the work. The marriage of decorative and architectural is crucial to accomplishing a cohesive overall effect.” 

Furthermore, this marriage is encouraged between the studio’s lighting and design teams, which ultimately allowed for smooth sailing throughout the design and building process. Yabu describes their work ethic: “Our lighting team works hands-on with the studio’s interior, architecture, and landscape designers to make sure that we are conscious of each touchpoint of a guest’s experience and vice versa.”

This cooperation allowed for each team to challenge the other, encouraging self-awareness and open-mindedness that puts the guest’s experience as central. 

“Overall, everything came together beautifully,.” summarises Yabu. “With the lighting team doing a fantastic job of honing in on their vision and seeing it through. The plan, was that there would be no bad seat in the house. Whether a guest can recognise that or not, they can most certainly feel it. That’s the beauty of good lighting.” 

Yabu’s personal favourite seat overlooks the Brooklyn Bridge, seared into the public consciousness through the iconic scene in Woody Allen’s Manhattan. From there, sunlight is brought in from every angle, amplifying the warm hues of the murals, and the Fulton transports its guests to a maritime fantasy of another time and another feeling.

Images: Adrian Gaut