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Meet Yahya Jan, the architect building the world’s tallest hotel, Dubai’s Ciel Tower

Written by Sana Noor Haq, CNNBijan Hosseini, CNN

If you look out onto the Dubai skyline, you’re likely to be admiring the work of Yahya Jan.

He is president and design director of architecture and engineering firm NORR, which is behind some of the city’s best-known landmarks, including the Atlantis and Shangri-La Hotels.

Now he is working on one of his most ambitious creations. Due for completion in 2023, the Ciel Tower will have more than 1,000 rooms and suites spread over 82 floors — and at around 1,200 feet (365 meters) high, it is set to become the world’s tallest hotel.

A passion project

For the project, Jan was tasked with designing the skyscraper on a triangular plot of land at Dubai Marina with an area of just 2,500 square meters — small for a building of that height.

Yahya Jan, president and design director of NORR.

“It’s a property that’s very compressed,” he said. “It’s like what you would face in Manhattan or London. The constraints were tremendous, and yet we had to make it work.”

A glass observation deck will offer 360-degree views of the city, as well as the coastline and iconic landmarks such as the Palm Jumeirah man-made island, according to the developer, The First Group. Visitors will also be able to take in the sights from a rooftop swimming pool and restaurants.

A rendering of Ciel Tower at night.

A rendering of Ciel Tower at night. Credit: Courtesy of NORR

As well as appealing to the senses, the project is energy efficient, using 25% less power for air conditioning than is typical for similar buildings, Jan said.

“This project is not just about architecture. It’s about architecture and engineering coming together,” he added. “That’s why I love the project so much. It … is my passion, the convergence of science and art.”

A short history of the world’s tallest buildings

Twelve floors have been completed but even this far into the build, Jan said he remains “extremely involved” in the work. “When you design a project as complex as the Ciel, you can never let your guard down, you can never say it’s over,” he said. “It’s a continuous process.”

An extended stay

When Jan first arrived in Dubai in 1996, he never envisioned he would leave such a legacy, designing some of the city’s most iconic office developments, residential towers and malls.

He grew up in Karachi, Pakistan, and moved to the US aged 18 on a scholarship. After studying structural engineering at Princeton, he got a Master’s in architecture. After that, Jan worked in the US for nine years and had no intention of leaving until he received a job offer as a senior designer working on the Emirates Towers office and hotel complex.

Emirates Towers, in Dubai .

Emirates Towers, in Dubai . Credit: Martin Rose/Bongarts/Bongarts/Getty Images

Now aged 57, he said that he never planned to stay in the UAE for so long. “It’s been an amazing 25 years in Dubai,” he said. “I got carried away with the excitement here.”

As for the Ciel Tower — named for the French word for sky — Jan hopes that it will come to be seen as timeless, like the Empire State Building or the Chrysler Building in New York City.

“The reason I like the fact that it’s called Ciel is because I believe in our own lives the sky is the limit, and that’s the case certainly in my own life,” he said. “I’ve had a chance to grow, to do things that I didn’t think I would get a chance to do. So it’s been amazing.”

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