Fazlur Rahman Khan was regarded as the Einstein of structural engineering, epitomising structural engineering achievement and creative collaborative effort between engineer and architect. Khan's central innovation in skyscraper design and construction was the idea of x-bracing and the tube and bundled tube structural systems for tall buildings. These innovations reduced loads, allowing for skyscrapers such as the Sears Tower in Chicago. Apart from several high-rise buildings, Khan planned and designed the Hajj Terminal at the International Airport Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the U.S. Airforce Academy and the United Airlines Building Complex.
Fazlur Rahman Khan born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, was a Bangladeshi-American architect and structural engineer. He structurally engineered the Willis Tower (formerly, the Sears Tower) and the John Hancock Center. The central figure behind the Second Chicago School of Architecture and the father of tubular design for high-rises, Khan was presented with many honours, including the Oscar Faber Medal from the Institution in 1973.
The last major buildings constructed by Khan were the One Magnificent Mile and Onterie Center in Chicago, which employed his bundled tube and trussed tube system designs, respectively. In contrast to his earlier buildings that were mainly steel, his last two buildings were concrete. His earlier DeWitt-Chestnut Apartments Building, built in 1963, Chicago, was also a concrete building with a tube structure. In 1955, employed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, he began working in Chicago Illinois. During the 1960s and 1970s, he became noted for his designs of the 100-storey John Hancock Center and the 110-storey Sears Tower, the tallest building in the world in its time and still the tallest in the United States. He is also responsible for designing notable buildings in Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia.
Dr. Fazlur Khan realised that the rigid steel frame structure that had ‘dominated tall building design and construction so long was not the only system fitting for tall buildings,’ marking ‘the beginning of a new era of skyscraper revolution in terms of multiple structural systems.’ Dr. Fazlur Khan's design innovations significantly improved the construction of high-rise buildings, enabling them to withstand enormous forces wielded against them. These new designs opened an economic door for contractors, engineers, architects and investors, providing vast amounts of real estate space on minimal plots of land. Fazlur Khan was always clear about the purpose of architecture and of technology being able to appreciate life in all its form.
Considered ‘the greatest structural engineer of the second half of the 20th century,’ Dr. Fazlur Khan’s quest for the vertical rise took its inspiration from mathematics and science of gravity.
Only when architectural design is grounded in structural realities— he believed— celebrating architecture's nature as a constructive art, rooted in the earth — can "the resulting aesthetics … have a transcendental value and quality."
Quotes to remember
"The technical man must not be lost in his own technology; he must be able to appreciate life, and life is art, drama, music, and most importantly, people." Fazlur Khan (Engineering Legends, Richard Weingardt)
- DeWitt-Chestnut Apartments, Chicago, 1963
- John Hancock Center
- Sears Tower, Chicago, 1970–1973
- Hajj Terminal, King Abdulaziz International Airport, Jeddah, 1974–1980
- King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, 1977–1978
- One Magnificent Mile, Chicago, completed 1983
- Onterie Center, Chicago, completed 1986