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December 11, 2017
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Mojgan Hariri and Gisue Hariri. (Source: Hariri and Hariri)

Think of an architect. Any architect.

Which names popped into your head? Piano, Rogers, Ando? Lloyd Wright, Pei, Calatrava, Nouvel? They may have diverse styles and come from different eras, but they do all have one thing in common: they are all men. With the obvious exception of Zaha Hadid, internationally lauded female architects are unusual, and all-female partnerships even rarer, so the discovery of Hariri and Hariri may come as a bit of a shock, for not only are these two Iranian-born, New York-based architects partners, they are also sisters. 

The two are obviously close. Both Mojgan and Gisue Hariri attended Cornell University in the USA, and later moved to New York City. Their combined energies, contrasting personalities and sisterly bond have formed the foundation for a formidable practice which has produced some of the world's most outstanding building projects. Amongst their many architectural successes are the Park Millennium Tower Penthouse in New York, St. Mark's Coptic Canadian Village and the Business Bay Hotel in Dubai. They've won several honours and awards, including being listed in Architectural Digest's AD100 and International Design Magazine's Hall of Fame. Their work also has recently been celebrated in an Images Publishing coffee table tome called Hariri and Hariri: Architecture, Building and Projects, which comes after the publication of Hariri and Hariri Homes, featuring the best of their domestic designs.

Wilton Pool House
(Photo courtesy of Hariri and Hariri)

The sisters' brand of modernism incorporates cutting edge technology and state of the art materials, with a nod to traditional Japanese simplicity and Bauhaus practicality. Their projects range broadly, from sprawling personal homes to inviting commercial spaces; from sharply geometric furniture design to multimillion dollar public projects. 

This wide variety of production is probably attributable to the fact that despite their almost identical résumés, the two sisters have developed quite diverse views of architecture: Gisue is rather philosophical and says that for her, "architecture is a way of life. It is the universal language we are all looking for." She expresses herself through her work, and claims to seek a connection to those who use the spaces she creates. Mojgan, on the other hand, is the more practical sibling, and states that frankly, her work is "like motherhood: suffering, but in heaven!" A painful process, but one with profoundly satisfying results.

She describes their [Hariri and Hariri] creative process as beginning at 'two opposite ends, but finally we meet somewhere along the line and that is when things fall into place'.

Attempting to articulate the dynamic of the duo, Gisue explains that coming from the same family may breed familiarity, but not similarity. Her work with Mojgan, she says, is so successful due to the complementary talents each sister brings to her work. She describes their creative process as beginning at "two opposite ends, but finally we meet somewhere along the line and that is when things fall into place." Their design process works on a purely collaborative basis, without either partner dominating. It works because, due to their intimate relationship, "we trust each other completely and will not allow any egos to get into the design process. Usually, great ideas win regardless of who came up with them."

But surely, as siblings, there must be some rivalry or reversion to childhood roles? Certainly not, Gisue insists: "Our roles are never fixed, as we always push each other to push the boundaries of design and architecture."As a successful partnership of sisters in a male-dominated world, Hariri and Hariri began smashing those boundaries from the day they launched in 1986, and they are currently being pushed further by their latest project, the Sternbrauerei in Salzburg.

Sternbrauerei
(Photo courtesy of Hariri and Hariri)

For twenty years, this luxury residential, mixed-use space has quite literally been on the drawing board, awaiting funding, approval and construction. Given Salzburg's well-preserved, rich history, planning boards were reluctant to allow for something this modern to juxtapose the chocolate box architecture of the city, but eventually, the sisters' integration of old and new structures, and the visual harmony of their iceberg-shaped edifice with the steep mountain that dominates the Salzburg's skyline, got the green light. "This is...the culmination of nearly twenty years of work for us. It is our largest and most multifaceted project to date, giving us the opportunity to truly create a landmark," says Gisue proudly.

From what I have seen of the plans for the Sternbrauerei, it, like most of Hariri and Hariri's projects, will be grand, multifaceted, complex, beautiful and enduring. A bit like sisterhood itself.

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