Written by BDJ Desk
Dr. Fazlur Rahman (1929-1982)-one of the greatest structural engineers of the twentieth century. Today in the 21st century 100 plus storeyed skyscrapers are popping up in the major cities around the globe... ...
Clusters of Sky scrapers not only offer an exquisite and modern skyline but also reflect the economic prosperity of a city.
Dr. Khan was born on April 3, 1929 in Dhaka. His father Abdur Rahman Khan was a prominent educationist and author. He studied engineering at Bengal Engineering College, Calcutta, India and moved to Dhaka after the creation of Pakistan. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1951 from Dhaka University.
In 1952, Fulbright and Government of Pakistan’s scholarships enabled him to travel to the United States to pursue graduate studies at University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign. He was a brilliant student; he completed enough academic credits by taking courses in both civil engineering and theoretical and applied mechanics simultaneously to get two masters degrees in two years. He completed his Ph.D. thesis in a very short time of one year after that.
In 1955 Dr. Khan joined the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owens & Merrill (Som), one of the largest and renowned architectural farms in the world. In 1957, he went back to Pakistan and worked as a technical adviser to the chief engineer at Karachi Development Authority (KDA). His seniors at KDA failed to tap into his technical genius as he was forced to do administrative tasks for three years rather than design works. Dejected and disappointed by his tenure at KDA, he returned to Chicago and joined SOM once again.
Over the last two decades, Dr. Khan’s innovative contributions to structural engineering enabled SOM to become a leader in the development of tall buildings.
Until 1960s the construction of a 100 plus storeyed buildings was not viable because of technological challenges and difficulties involved in dealing with the force of gravity and wind. It also required colossal financial investment. But then Dr. Khan emerged on the horizon of structural engineering and his innovative ideas and techniques enabled architects and structural engineers to design and build tall skyscrapers.
Dr. Khan revolutionized the construction of tall buildings by inventing “framed tube”, “braced tube”, and bundled tube structural systems, which made it possible to construct the 100 storeyed John Han lock Centre and 110-storeyed Sears Tower in Chicago (a building so tall that it needed Federal Aviation Administration’s approval before the construction could commence) using a minimum amount of steel.
Dr. Khan’s structural system inventions played a fundamental role in the design of modern high-rise buildings. His efforts were not only limited to structural engineering but also played an important role in the form and architecture of the buildings he worked on.
Dr. Khan’s contributions and innovative approaches to building design and aesthetic details to the field have been so significant that he had been called the ‘Einstein of structural engineering’ and the ‘Father of the modern skyscrapers’. For his contributions to the field, he had not only received the highest international awards for engineering but also been recognized for his architectural creativity.
To honor this world famous engineer, a chair has been established against Dr. Khan’s name at Lehigh University. The structural engineers’ association, Illinois, has installed a Khan sculpture at the premises of Sears Tower; and the city of Chicago has named one of the streets in downtown Chicago ‘Fuzlur R. Khan Way’. Had there been a Nobel Prize in engineering, he surely would have won it!
Dr. Khan passed away on March 27, 1982 in Saudi Arabia while he was working on the construction of Hajj terminal at Jeddah airport and the design of a university campus in Mecca. Mourning his death, the prominent technical publication Engineering News-Record paid tributes to him by observing- “The consoling facts are that his structures will stand for years and that his ideas will never die”.
Twenty six years after his death, on 3rd March 2008 was his 79th birth anniversary. On this occasion two books were published which regenerated interests in the life and accomplishments of Dr. Khan. The first book `Art of the skyscraper: The genius of Fazlur Rahman Khan’ written by Professor Dr. Mir Ali, Professor of Architectural Structures at the University of Illinois at Urbana Campaign, offers a vivid portrait of Dr. Khan’s accomplishments. The second book, `Engineering Architectural: The vision of Fazlur R. Khan’ written by Dr. R. Khan’s daughter Yasmin Sabina Khan Byron- a structural engineer, presents an account of her father’s design projects within the context of his personal beliefs and the social settings of the time.
Dr. Khan was for more than an innovative structural engineer; he was also a philosopher, a thinker and humanitarian. He had keen interest in the people, art, music and literature. In 1972 he said, ``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”.
Dr. Fazlur Rahman Khan has left behind a legacy of tall building design. In his designs, he believed in logic, truth, objectivity and rationality. His innovative ideas are present in form of tall buildings in the major cities of the world today. One magnificent Mile and Onterie center, John Hancock Centre, the Sears Tower- all in Chicago; One shell Plaza at Houston, Solar Telescope at Arizona USA; Air Force academy, Colorado, World Trade Centre, Hong Kong; and the Hajj Terminal Jeddah are some of his best Known completed projects.
Sorce : Dawu Gallery