Hani Rashid

(1st hotel over Formula 1 race track) architect

Egypt / US

The luxurious Yas-Hotel - not only one of Abu Dhabi's landmarks, but also the first hotel in the world to be built over a Formula 1 race track. The flagship stores of the Italian design brand Alessi or of the Brazilian fashion designer Carlos Miele in the Big Apple. Three examples that prove Asymptote Architectures' outstanding status. The New York-based architecture practice that is „know for multidisciplinary architectural designs that often incorporate digital technologies“ (Wikipedia) is run by Hani Rashid and Lise Anne Couture, his wife. Their firm is one of the most innovative and visionary in this genre internationally. It has received numerous awards for planning, visionary construction, art installations, product and exhibition design as well as pioneering digital spatial environments - including the renowned "Friedrich Kiesler Prize for Architecture and Art". Typical of Asymptote Architecture: a dynamically moving formal language in which, for example, skyscrapers were designed as laterally twisted spirals.

Hani Rashid

(1st hotel over Formula 1 race track) architect

Egypt / US

Hani Rashid
Hani Rashid | © Naho Kubota Photography

Hani Rashid (* 30 September 1958, Cairo, Egypt) is the older brother of the designer Karim Rashid, grew up in Great Britain and Canada. A visit to the 1967 World EXPO in Montreal with his father was a key experience for him in terms of his later choice of career. At Carleton University in Ottawa, he graduated with a bachelor's degree in architecture in 1983, describing himself as "extremely inquisitive and somewhat neurotic". Two years later, the admirer of Marcel Duchamp (conceptual art pioneer), Jean Cocteau (author, designer, director, painter), George Maciunas (co-founder of the art movement Fluxus), the composers Jean Sibelius and John Cage as well as the filmmakers Jean-Luc Godard and Alfred Hitchcock completed his Master's degree at the Cranbrook Academy Of Art in Bloomfield Hills/Michigan. There he met his mentor: The later star architect Daniel Libeskind, famous for his multidisciplinary approach.

From 1989, Rashid held a position as Associate Professor of Architecture at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University in New York, where he developed the Advanced Digital Design and Digital Design Initiative programmes. In the same year, the enthusiastic listener of the advertising-free Internet music radio station „Somafm“ founded Asymptote Architecture together with his partner in Milan/Italy. The fact that their company is different from all their competitors is already expressed by the unconventional name. It comes from mathematics and stands for a straight line that approaches a curve running to infinity without reaching it. With radically revolutionary, experimental designs, the avant-gardists have earned a reputation over the years as forward-thinking techno-utopians of the 21st century, whose company stands for bridging architecture into the digital age. This was further underpinned by a presence at dOCUMENTA (Kassel) and the Biennale (Venice).

Asymptote Architecture has long been based in New York. There, the duo leads a hand-picked international team of designers who develop an individual creative vision for each project. Notwithstanding Hani Rashid's commitment to his own cause, he, who "works in planes, trains, beds, hotels and sometimes even in the office", has guest professorships at several universities such as the Harvard University Graduate School of Design in Cambridge/USA, the Berlage Institute in Zurich, the Southern California Institute of Architecture in Los Angeles and the Princeton University School of Architecture/USA. Since 2011, he has also held a professorship at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna and is the director of Studio Hani Rashid at the Institute of Architecture there. Studio Hani Rashid is one of the three architectural design studios of the master's program at the Institute of Architecture at the University of Applied Arts Vienna. The program takes three years (six semesters) and concludes with a M. Arch degree.

The two Asymptote founders also appear as authors and have written books such as 'Asymptote Architecture: Actualizations' (2010), 'Design Document Series 09: Scape, Asymptote Architecture/USA' (2004), 'FLUX' (2002), 'Asymptote: Rashid + Couture, A+U' (1999) and 'Architecture at the Interval' (1996).

Hani Rashid and Lise Anne Couture, who are the parents of a son, have - in contrast to many of their well-known colleagues - no increased interest in media focus on their person. They live in Brooklyn/NewYork (US).


Interview February 2016

Intelligent, innovative, visionary: architecture as art


The Romanian-French sculptor Constantin Brancusi said about his creation process: “Things are not difficult to make. What is difficult is, putting yourself in the state of mind to make them.“ Before the creativity, there is intuition. Where does this intuition come from, what sparks it? How does it manifest itself – is it only a vague idea or tangible?

I believe that statement by Brancusi can be interpreted a bit differently than having to do with intuition. For me the state of mind is more a sense of getting lost, of being at the edge of a precipice or in some unknown place and almost feeling captive. It is that moment of a sort of desperation, a sort of boredom and a sort of exhilaration - all action at once – that spurs the creative moment for me. It’s a kind of torturous procrastination that I feel just prior to being really inspired and creative. Then at that moment my intuition takes hold.

Is the timeframe of intuition only temporary or can it be supported by external factors?

It can be sustained for a long time. In my world creating is a multi-pronged activity. There is the intuition and one could say move or idea. Then there is a lot of back and forth between intuition and reasoning, between rational ideas and making mistakes (sometime purposely) and then intuiting the errors and back to a rational sort of justification and problem-solving and so on. It’s a convoluted activity making architecture and simply relying on intuition or scientific reasoning both don’t cut it.

Is intuition reliant on spontaneity or is it possible to engage this spiritual resource at any time, consciously? If so, how?

Creative intuition is somewhat spiritual, I feel. There is a sense of being somewhere else at times, of channeling something, of reasoning with ghosts etc. . So, yes, it’s often a journey into the unconscious and a counter journey back to the surface... For me it feels sometimes like a deep sea dive.

How important is the own physical constitution? Is it true that sadness equals creativity (or vice versa)?

No, I don’t subscribe to that at all. In fact it’s the opposite of me, or perhaps somewhere between the opposite. I need to be in a simultaneous state of nervousness and calmness, or desperation at the same time as feeling confident and sure footed. So sadness has no place in that equation; sadness tends to throw me off my game.

Do calm and relaxation further the „best“ or is a tight deadline a stimulant for creativity?

Tight deadlines always drive the act. There is nothing else that moves me other than knowing I might fall.

Which place/what environment is best for your creation/work process?

Places without distractions, but also full of stimulate. For example I need windows and landscapes. I need snow sometimes or surf. I need books and objects everywhere, but I detest clutter and chaos. I also often need tools, because the pen, paper, cardboard, clue and computer are all very necessary in my quiver.

What, if there is a deadline, but no intuition?

I don’t know that feeling unless I was not aware of the deadline. Deadlines, as I said, fuel my intuition and creativity. If on the other hand I neglect some project and the decline arrives, it means, I wrote that one off a while ago and kept it subconscious off my radar.

Before intuition is inspiration the primary catalyst? If so, what inspires you?

Inspiration is for me sustenance or fuel. It is drawn into me always and anywhere. It could be a view, a book or film-sequence. It could be a musical work or random sounds. It could also be quite simply a memory or sensation. In other words: I am full on, always soaking inspiration in when I can. I store it like muscle and fat for use later, when I need to “run” - creatively speaking that is.

According to Philip Roth, “amateurs wait for inspiration, while professionals sit down and work.” How do you feel about that?

Absolutely agree… Waiting for inspiration is akin waiting for Godot… It is not going to happen.

How do you separate the good from the bad, how do you know which ideas to explore further, which ones are maybe even ahead of their time, visionary ideas and which are not?

I revel in error. What I mean by that is: I often ask myself, what is correct about this and what is incorrect or a mistake. Then I actually work on the mistake and abandon the so-called ‘correct’ solution for as long as I possibly can. This something that is pretty apparent, when I get with my staff (whom I view as collaborators in this). They will stare at me sometimes, when I go down the wrong path and wonder, what the hell am I doing. I imagine, they might even question my intelligence or sanity in those moments. Yet somehow when we go through such a process, we tend to survive and come out with something unique and more often than not even more “correct”. I suppose I have a sort of “confidence” internally, which drives this behaviour, although at the time it’s taking place I too wonder, if I know what I am doing.

What key criteria does the idea need to be viable?

In our world we are after space and spatiality, form and meaning, and function. These five parameters are what we gauge viability with. It is impossible to create a work of architecture without placing these all-important variables in the equation. Otherwise you might just end up with “design” or a “building” or an “aesthetic”, but not necessarily a work of architecture.

Do you write down an idea right away, because you might forget?

Yes, I am always “writing” through sketching ideas, if I catch one… Most of the time that happens during flights. That is why we have an archive of first sketches on ‘Lufthansa’-, ‘Austrian’- and ‘Swiss’-airline-stationary.

Do you feel if an idea has the potential to be something big?

No, I can never be that confident, unfortunately.

How long do you ponder an idea before creatively working on it?

Sometime days and sometimes years… Never hours.


According to novel-price-awarded author Nelly Sachs “everything starts with yearning”. Do you agree?

I suppose, I do. Although, yearning sounds sad. I prefer wanting and revelling as terms in this respect.

Is it magic and fun or torture/blood, sweat and tears to be creative?

It’s arduous, yes. Although again, I will use a sport-analogy, which I also revel in. In cycling a long hard climb is a killer. The higher the grade, the tougher the climb. And yet there is something euphoric and “fun” in the self-inflicted torture and racing heart-rate-muscle-ache etc. … so to be truly creative, it’s a climb that sometimes you think will never end. However, it does. And when it does, the sense of euphoria is palpable and you then head on to the next.

What is the process like from theory/idea to a practical creation?

That’s a difficult process and in need of a different set of faculties and brain-cells to be some well. I personally find that the reverse trek is more interesting: To move an idea back into theory and then theory into idea!

Can you force creativity or are „drive“ and efficiency counterproductive?

One can force creativity as drive and efficiency are not necessarily counterproductive; rather they can work in tandem. However, forcing creativity can give you good results, but not necessarily good ones!

How do you stimulate your creativity/are there specific rituals therefore or a muse?

None what so ever… That always has struck me as a lame excuse to have a vice or two. No, I am creative almost always. However, I just need to tap the situation much like the description of Philip Glass (US-American composer/pianist, who is widely regarded as one of the most influential composers of the late 20th century) referring to how he makes music: That listening to the underbelly of the streets of New York, music is there constantly. It is just a matter of filtering and bringing it to the surface to make it work. Same goes with me. My mind is always on. However, finding the mechanisms to harness the torrent is the trick, and rituals, muses the like just distract me.

When you are in a creative phase, are you working as if being in trance?


Which is better for creativity: discipline and structured time-management or idleness?

Idleness by all means is key, but getting to a state of total idleness is so difficult in this age of over-stimulation and unwanted noise and action!

Does age and life experience help with creativity or is a younger mind more creative, because it is fresh and untouched by experience? What about social/cultural heritage?

My father taught me an important lesson in this regard. He was an abstract painter who noted at the age of 80 that he stopped his mind from aging at 36! I have done that too…at 32.

How important is talent for creativity? Is art of any kind based on talent?

Talent is simply the ability to harness the torrents of creativity we all possess. Talent is the machinery or apparatus that’s needed. And finding it, nurturing it and keeping it, is very critical.

Do you archive certain ideas to maybe check back when you are in a less creative phase?

Yes, I constantly archive and re-archive. And yes, it’s true: I tend to do that in my least creative modes.

Did you ever revisit an older idea that you thought would be worthless, but turned out to be great/good later on? If so, why do you think that happened?

I really think in some ways I am only working on one idea. And even though the outcomes are so different and so seemingly disparate, there is a part of me that keeps revisiting an old, discarded idea…. The problem is that I can never really find it, so the journey of looking for it, but never locating it, is perhaps my definition of creativity.

Is it better to be creative on your own, only trust your own instinct, or in a team? However, in a team - how much of your own, personal idea is really left afterwards?

For me, the team is crucial. Architecture requires so many talents and people to be part of the overall creative work. Flying solo is simply ridiculous in such a field. It’s very much to me like film-making. Yes, the director has to be very creative, and assume the role of “author”, but without a great team, there is no film. The same goes for architecture.

Is it true talent to trust other people to fill the gaps of one’s own deficits/lack in creativity to produce something significant/great?

Perhaps. Yes, one could say that. It’s also an act of courage and a belief in the power of great ideas to overcome obstacles.

Who’s leading the creativity-process: craftsmanship or spontaneous intuition/inspiration?

Intuition and inspiration. However, a great craftsman processes these attributes, so it’s a bit blurred, the distinction.

Which roles play aspects such as sincerity, authenticity, self-doubt when it comes to creativity and are they useful for the creative process?

I believe, I answered this in my response questions of intuition. However, to risk repeating myself being sincere, authentic and possessing self-doubt are all key. However, I am always a bit taken back by creatives I meet – particularly in my discipline that pretend to not possess any of these character-flaws.

If you would make a pie-chart: How are emotion, mind and commercial interests spread in percentages when it comes to the creative process?

Emotion is a small slice, the mind a very large one. Then there are the slices of challenges, need and error and commercial interests…well, that’s the sugar coating.

Which is better in a developmental process: speed, meaning to grasp the magic of the moment, or a slow, ripening process when it comes to implementation and elaboration?

Speed is so important on the onset. Then slow methodical procedures take over after that.

What is the individual satisfaction based on: a) self-realization and individual fulfilment, b) the (artistic) recognition or c) commercial success?

All of the above.

What is your personal motivation for creative activity?

To start over and to discover something that I am constantly trying to discover.

Which role does perfection play when it comes to creativity? Is a completely perfect opus soulless?

Perfection is a red herring in the process. If I were to target that at the onset of a project, it would be over before it starts. Perfection comes later: The perfection of nitrating the sketch, the perfection of the execution, the perfection of the outcome. The creative origins need to be terribly imperfect to allow for all that to take place with conviction and intensity.

How much does routine influence creativity in the daily business?

It kills it.

Can routine, experience and professionalism make up for lack of creativity? And if so, to which extent?

The real obstacle to creativity is the quest for the mundane – be that expressed by way of a client, a city or a culture. If mundanity is desired, creativity is useless!

How is it possible to stay true to yourself artistically, but remain innovative at the same time? Can you keep re-inventing yourself without renoucing/denying your style?

I detest style. So, I guess, that helps.

Is it desirable to be ahead of your time or does it cause to be misunderstood (or not understood at all)?

That’s a terribly overrated idea, to be ahead of ones’ time. All that really means is, you haven’t yet found your audience or perhaps your audience has left for other pastures.

Are creative people especially sensitive, because they have a particular emotion?

I really can’t say – however, temperamental is something that comes to mind, yes.

When does the time come to end the creative process, to set the finalized work free - or is there a never-ending possibility of improvement?

A truly creative work is never finished! It’s an asymptotic journey and the only thing that terminates the process is a Fedex-date or death.


Is there an individual prototype for success? In other words: Is success projectable?

No rules whatsoever for true success. There is a rule for minor successes such as winning a price, receiving a commission, accolades from peers and critics etc. . However, even with that, the true measured success is self-reflective, and, if you are in that act of making, thinking and acting upon your creative impulses, there is little time to feel successful!

When something is successful, how big is the temptation to recycle it, to repeat the successful prototype?

There is no temptation whatsoever. That would mean, gloating and feeling complete. And why would one feel to be complete, when there is so much to do?

How big of a role does coincidence play when it comes to mass reception/popularity? Or: Why is someone successful and someone else is not, even though both are similarly talented?

Nothing to do with it. Some are more successful than others merely by means of their ability to show their plumage, to grandstand or to be as loud or quiet as possible. It’s not coincidental or accidental that one reaches mass reception, it’s about spin, marketing and narcissism. To a certain extent it works obviously, when one looks to the music- and entertainment-industry. The same dynamics operate in the cultural camps also.

Should you be able to predict characteristics, needs and desires of your potential audience to be successful?

In my world as an architect, I have to be able to predict and feb certain regarding needs and desires. The trick is to filter them. There is a vast difference between an audience (clients), who only wants to make money versus an audience (users) that want to feel something move them.

How do you stay open to criticism despite success?

I really feel that your best and most severe critics has to be yourself. Others will inevitable find kinks in your armor and make light of it. You need to be attentive to that to improve and stay afloat.

Do you have to be driven, do you have to be addicted to achieve the next time, what didn’t work this time?

Addiction, drive and a touch of masochism serve one pretty well in this regard, yes.

Is success dependable from your personality and characteristic traits?

To a certain extent, yes. If we speak of public success for better or worse, one needs to have a personality, a presence and a character that can be poked at and recognized. The problem here is, when that aspect becomes the barometer of success, then things get dubious.

Does success inhere the danger of megalomania?

It can, and sometimes it does. And it’s too bad, because it had to start in a much better place.

Did you ever deliver something that you thought was mediocre, but was successful?

Yes, and it depressed me to see that. But on the other hand, amnesia is also a necessary trait at times.

How big is the fear of failure that a successful run might end and what follows is the fall?

I suppose for some that’s a big deal; for me I still need to get there, I feel. I have never believed that I have reached true success, and therefore have never felt comfortable or afraid of a fall. I’m still climbing.

In your mind, what is the reason for being successful over a long period of time and all of a sudden the success is gone? Is this a matter of the contemporary taste and changing times or is it just a natural development that once one is on top for some time, there’s only one way – down?

That is a question tied to fashion, trends etc. . For me, I don’t care and the great thing about architecture is that success is measured over a long, long time – sometimes and often after one no longer exists. So perhaps this week or year or decade the blush fades on some ideas and moves, but we work for the long haul and that is not easily anticipated, gauged or forgotten in the short run.

How do you deal with failure?

Dust myself off and go back in the ring… every time!

Is it important to have perseverance, because success might come later on?

It’s imperative to persevere. There is no alternative, if one feels driven to create and produce.

Do you consider failure as a chance to be even more successful later on?

No. It’s simply a drag. And better put it aside and chalked up to experience.

How do you deal with a moment, where your individual, perfect work has been created, maybe has been praised and nominated with all possible awards – what will be next? Or is the personal peak also “the end”?

I don’t trust accolades, awards, kudos or pats on the back. For me that’s all theatre and quite enjoyable, but inconsequential to my work! I need to constantly find another project to obsess over or else I find myself in a strange state of mind. That strange state of mind is acting, thinking and being relatively normal and not creative!

If this is a possibility – is it even desirable to create the ultimate, perfect work?

It’s not really a possibility to consider that. That (perfection) can only be deemed by others and really needs the rust and residue or time on it to be truly perfect.

My personal favorite work

“The Yas-Hotel in Abu Dhabi has become an icon of that city and region. It was created as a prose or reflection the region’s beauty, its atmosphere, its history and its place in modernity.”

Yas Island rendring
My favorite work: Yas Island rendring

You like(d) what’s offered here? Please show your appreciation by donating to one of the recommended charities.

Donate now