3 April: Remembering Fazlur Rahman Khan on birthday

OV Digital Desk
6 Min Read
Fazlur Rahman Khan

Image Courtesy: Google Doodle

Fazlur Rahman Khan (3 April 1929 – 27 March 1982) was a Bangladeshi-American structural engineer and architect, who initiated important structural systems for skyscrapers. Considered the “father of tubular designs” for high-rises, Khan was also a pioneer in computer-aided design (CAD). He was the designer of the Sears Tower, since renamed Willis Tower, the tallest building in the world from 1973 until 1998, and the 100-story John Hancock Center.

Life and Career

Khan was born in East Bengal, British India (now Bangladesh) on 3 April 1929, and studied engineering at the University of Dhaka before moving to the United States in 1952 to pursue graduate studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He earned his master’s degree in 1955 and his PhD in 1957, both in structural engineering.

After completing his studies, Khan joined the Chicago-based architectural and engineering firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) and became a partner in the firm in 1966. During his time at SOM, he was responsible for the structural design of some of the world’s most iconic buildings, including the John Hancock Center and the Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower) in Chicago, as well as the Hajj Terminal at the King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Khan’s most significant contribution to the field of engineering was his development of the “tube” structural system for tall buildings. This system involved the use of a perimeter of closely spaced columns to provide lateral support to the building, with the interior space left open for maximum flexibility. The tube system allowed for taller buildings to be constructed with greater efficiency and structural stability, and it became the basis for the design of many of the world’s tallest buildings, including the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

In addition to his engineering work, Khan was also a passionate advocate for the integration of architectural design and engineering, and he worked closely with architects to develop innovative and aesthetically pleasing building designs. He also advocated for the use of environmentally sustainable building materials and practices.

Buildings on which Khan was a structural engineer include:

  • McMath–Pierce solar telescope, Kitt Peak National Observatory, Arizona, 1962
  • DeWitt-Chestnut Apartments, Chicago, 1963
  • Brunswick Building, Chicago, 1965
  • John Hancock Center, Chicago, 1965–1969
  • One Shell Square, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1972
  • 140 William Street(formerly BHP House), Melbourne, 1972
  • Sears Tower, renamed Willis Tower, Chicago, 1970–1973
  • First Wisconsin Center, renamed S. Bank Center, Milwaukee, 1973
  • Hajj Terminal, King Abdulaziz International Airport, Jeddah, 1974–1980
  • King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, 1977–1978
  • Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1982
  • One Magnificent Mile, Chicago, completed in 1983
  • Onterie Center, Chicago, completed in 1986
  • United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Khan died of a heart attack on 27 March 1982 while on a trip in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, at the age of 52., but his legacy lives on in the numerous iconic buildings he helped to design and in the continued use of his innovative structural systems. He is widely recognized as one of the most influential engineers of the 20th century.

Award and Legacy

Fazlur Rahman Khan received numerous awards and honors for his contributions to the field of engineering and architecture. Some of these awards include:

  • The National Medal of Science (1982)
  • The American Institute of Architects Institute Honor Award for Engineering Excellence (1973)
  • The Institution of Structural Engineers Gold Medal (1974)
  • The American Society of Civil Engineers Outstanding Projects and Leaders (OPAL) Lifetime Achievement Award (2008)

Khan’s legacy in the field of engineering and architecture is significant. His innovative structural systems have been used in the design of many of the world’s tallest and most iconic buildings, and his emphasis on the integration of engineering and architecture has influenced the way that buildings are designed and constructed. He is also remembered for his advocacy for environmentally sustainable building materials and practices.

In addition, Khan’s work has inspired future generations of engineers and architects, and many universities offer courses and programs in his honor. The Fazlur Rahman Khan Endowed Chair in Structural Engineering and Architecture was established at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in his honor, and the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat established the Fazlur Rahman Khan Medal to recognize individuals who have made significant contributions to the advancement of tall buildings and urban habitat.

On 3 April 2017, Google celebrated Fazlur Rahman Khan’s 88th birthday with a doodle.

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