By Syed Aslam
Fazlur Rahman Khan was born in 1929, in Dhaka, Bengal now Bangladesh. His father, Khan Bahadur Abdur Rahman Khan, was a renowned educationists. Khan passed the Matriculation Examination from Calcutta in 1944 and was admitted to the Presidency College. He obtained the Engineering Degree securing first position from Shibpur Engineering College of Calcutta in 1950. He was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship and a Ford Foundation Scholarship in 1952 to pursue higher studies in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and received his PhD degree in Structural Engineering . In 1955, employed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, he began working in Chicago. During the 1960s and 1970s, he became noted for his designs for Chicagoâ€™s 100-story John Hancock Center and 108-story Sears Tower, the tallest building in the world in its time and still the tallest in the United States since its completion in 1974. He died in 1981 at the age of 52 in Chicago.
Dr. Khan is called the Einstein of Structural Engineering and here is why. His contributions to the field- developing the shear wall frame interaction system, the framed-tube structure, and the tube-in-tube structure-led to significant improvement in structural efficiency. This kind of design made the construction of tall buildings economically viable. The framed-tube structure has its columns closely spaced around the perimeter of the building, rather than scattered throughout the footprint, while stiff spandrels beams connect these columns at every floor level. Khan realized 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 is not suitable any more. His idea brought a new era of sky scraper evolution in terms of multiple structural systems.
Dr. Khanâ€™s design innovations significantly improved the construction of high-rise buildings, enabling them to withstand enormous forces generated on these super structures. These new designs opened an economic door for contractors, engineers, architects, and investors, providing vast amounts of real estate space on minimal squire feet of land. His tube concept, using all the exterior wall perimeter structure of a building to simulate a thin-walled tube, revolutionized tall building design. The constructions of most super tall skyscrapers since the 1960s, including the construction of the World Trade Center. Terminal Building in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia is based on a tent-like structure – to afford optimum shade for up to 80,000 pilgrims. Khan used fiberglass and cable to combine the practical with the modern to create the tent like structure which is fully functional for the last 25 years.
The cornerstone of Khanâ€™s approach was that science in fusion with creativity, can create a design affordable also in the less affluent parts of the world. Until his death in 1981, Khan was profoundly concerned with the rapid urbanization of developing countries and called for the application of workable and appropriate forms of technology. He will be remembered for his contributions to the human civilization.