Architects, authors, jewelry and furniture designers, sisters. Those descriptors only scratch the surface of who Gisue Hariri and Mojgan Hariri are. Daughters of an electrical engineer father and a homemaker-painter mother, the Docservis Hall of Fame members founded their seven-person firm, , in New York in 1986, after moving from Iran to study architecture at Cornell and stints at (Gisue) and (Mojgan, who also has a master’s in urban design). Today, they are sought after for buildings and interiors that are angular yet poetic—and utterly exquisite. On the heels of completing a contemporary art–filled Manhattan apartment, they share their story.
Docservis: How did growing up in Iran influence your future?
Gisue Hariri: Our father’s profession required us to live in the desert near the oil fields. That environment was nurturing yet isolating, the latter encouraging our imaginations to run wild, inventing our own world more than a conventional childhood would have. Also, we were raised in a family that valued higher education, especially for women.
Mojgan Hariri: The desert can strip everything down to its essence, but without diminishing its presence and beauty. In our work, we try to understand the essence of each project, always beginning with an original concept and striving for simplicity, efficiency, and environmental sustainability. Another influence was the city of Isfahan, where we would visit our paternal grandparents every summer. It’s gardens and pedestrian bridges, blue-domed mosques, bazaars, and 17th-century palaces filled us with astonishment and awe. Isfahan is truly the museum of Persian architecture.
ID: We love the faceted, sculptural characteristics in your projects and products, like your Swarovski collection. What inspires them?
GH: From very early on, we’ve collected rocks and studied geological and crystal formations, fascinated by the abstract, geometric, asymmetrical forms and patterns derived from nature, which is also apparent in both Persian architecture and modern western architecture.
ID: Which project are you most proud of?
MH: Jewels of Salzburg, an $80 million mixed-use development for which we did the master plan and six new buildings. But it isn’t its scale nor the challenges we confronted that makes it significant for us. Rather, it’s this relationship between architecture and nature that we’ve created, a dialogue and meditative experience we carved at the edge of a rock wall, which guides the public through the site. Plus, it’s one of very few new constructions permitted in that historic city, allowing Mozart’s birthplace to become a destination for 21st-century architecture.
ID: Do you both work on every project?
GH: Continuous, holistic creativity and innovation are our hallmarks. We try to work on every project together, especially at the schematic design phase. Because of our holistic approach, the exterior and the interior of a project are not separate; everything has to be seamless, so we don’t have that divide where one team is doing the shell and core and the other team is selecting materials and finishes.
ID: What are a few recent projects, and what are you working on now?
MH: We’ve just completed an office tower in Tehran, Iran, and an exhibition of our models at . We’re gut renovating several NYC apartments, designing a residential development, a building lobby, and a public plaza on Park Avenue. We’re also doing a hotel in northern Iran.
ID: How many books have you done?
GH: 4: ; Hariri & Hariri in Casas International 48; ; and . We’re now working on our 5th book; it’s with Images Publishing as part of their Leading Architects of the World series and due out June 2017. We think it’s very important to do these. When I was studying architecture, there were none on the work of any woman architects.
MH: It’s also important to stop every so often and analyze your work—putting a book together provides that opportunity. You can see what you’ve done and where you want to go. We treat every one like a work of art, spending much time on the design, content, and concept.
ID: Which person, place, or thing—in the industry or out—inspires you?
GH: Hillary Rodham Clinton.
MH: Alberto Giacometti.
ID: What item can’t you live without?
GH: My iPhone.
MH: My Hariri & Hariri stainless-steel bed.
ID: Is there a material (new or not) you’re excited to specify?
GH: I like materials that can be used inside and out, like walnut and stone. I’m looking into now.
ID: How has your work evolved over the years?
MH: After 30 years in the business, our skin is thicker, and the projects get more complex and complicated.
GH: Our work has become tougher but more elegant. Good design is when beauty, sensuality, functionality, technology, and philosophy connect the body and mind.