Project Description“For a long time, I wanted to see if I could make a building move fast,” says Hani Rashid, co-principal with Lise Anne Couture of Asymptote Architecture. The firm’s recently completed Yas Hotel, in Abu Dhabi, with its hovering carapace of glass scales, appears to flutter in the wind like a high-tech veil. Especially if you happen to be driving a racecar on the Formula 1 track that bisects the hotel.
The 500-room hotel, comprising a pair of elliptical, 12-story buildings, has two skins: The inner curtain wall is conventional, save for its airlinerlike acoustical insulation (which muffles the roar of the racecars), while the outer “grid shell” breaks the sunlight and generates a stack cooling effect. Visually, this undulating canopy creates an instant landmark.
Rashid says the meshwork of diamond-shaped panels evokes the tessellated patterns found in traditional Islamic architecture. It also embodies Asymptote’s ongoing efforts to realize abstract mathematical models as physical structures. The New York firm’s pursuit of “technological elegance”—Rashid’s term for the harmony of speed, computation, and movement exemplified by sleek aircraft and car bodies—dates to its Fluxspace objects and architectural installations of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
In the original design proposal, all 5,800 glass panels, conceived as a responsive or intelligent skin, would have been able to pivot via electronic triggers. The idea, says Rashid, was to “create a shiver across the surface.” Prohibitive costs required the glazing to remain stationary, but each panel is unique in size (ranging from 5 feet to 14 feet wide), shape, and angle of tilt. Optimizing the grid’s corner angles with CATIA software, Asymptote collaborated with Gehry Technologies and the Vienna University of Technology as well as Arup project engineers to streamline the design and fabrication of this intricate exoskeleton.
Starting at dusk, the grid shell becomes a light source of its own. LED luminaires—5,800 of them, each containing 144 bulbs—mounted in the vertices of the lattice function in unison as a wraparound screen, turning the Yas Hotel into something of a lava lamp, or a phosphorescent sea creature. Frits in the glass panels reflect the light sources outward, according to Rashid, without compromising transparency from within.
Rashid and Couture are wary of comparisons with Las Vegas and its flashy color displays. Instead, Asymptote designed seven digital scripts for the lighting-control system based on more “ambient” and “ethereal” phenomena, such as slow-moving ocean waves. Nevertheless, the client, Aldar Properties, can reprogram the façade lighting as it sees fit—to play up holidays or racing events, for example.
“Veiling and draping is a local aesthetic,” observes Rashid. But for the Yas Hotel, which straddles a racetrack and is sited by a marina, the local idiom also includes sculpted boat hulls and tapering car fuselages. This, for Asymptote, is context at its most congenial.