Dr. Fazlur Rahman Khan had been a prominent structural engineer who invented tubular structural system in the ‘60s that enabled construction of super tall buildings efficiently and economically. The tubular system invented by him revolutionized the construction of tall buildings which were otherwise thought to be not feasible to construct at that time.

Dr. Khan was born on 3rd April 1929 in Dhaka. He studied civil engineering in Bengal Engineering and Science University, Shibpur, India (currently Indian Institute of Engineering Science and Technology, Shibpur). Due to the communal riot of 1950, he was forced to return to Dhaka and was admitted to the Ahsanullah Engineering College (AEC) from where he earned his bachelor’s in civil engineering in 1950. He served as a lecturer in the Department of Civil Engineering of AEC till 1952. He then went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne, USA on a Pakistani Govt. and on a Fulbright Scholarship and earned two masters’ and a PhD degree in 1955. Professional career of Dr. FR Khan started when he joined consulting firm Skidmore, Owings and Merril (SOM) in 1955. In 1957, he returned to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) to fulfill his scholarship obligations. He returned to the USA in 1960 and joined SOM again and became a partner of SOM in 1966.

As a structural engineering maestro, he improved the application of frame-shearwall interaction system. The tubular structural system proposed by him resulted in a radical change in the building industry and construction of tall building started becoming more and more economically feasible. In a tubular system, closely spaced columns are placed along the periphery of the building and spandrel beams tightly connect the columns resulting in a larger interior free of columns. The idea was first applied in the construction of 43 storied Plaza on DeWitt building in Chicago in 1966. The tubular structural system was used in the famous World Trade Center twin towers in New York which were destroyed on 11th September 2001 by terrorist attack. Dr. Khan introduced trussed tube system for the 100 storied John Hancock Center (presently 875 North Michigan Avenue) which was completed in 1969. Later, Dr. Khan introduced bundled tube system in the 110 storied Willis Tower which was completed in 1973 and held the record of being the tallest building in the world for about 25 years. Another variant of tubular system called tube-in-tube system was also applied in many buildings that include the 780 Third Avenue building of New York. The various forms of tubular structural systems introduced by Dr. Khan was followed in numerous other tall buildings in the USA and around the world including the 836m tall Burj Khalifa in Dubai which currently holds the record of being the tallest structure and building in the world since 2008. Other than tall buildings, Dr. Khan’s notable works include the tent-like Hajj Terminal of King Abdul Aziz Airport in Jeddah, King Abdul Aziz University  and Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis etc.

Dr. Khan received numerous awards and accolades throughout his career. He received Wason Medal (1971) and Alfred Lindau Award (1973) from the American Concrete Institute (ACI); the Thomas Middlebrooks Award (1972) and the Ernest Howard Award (1977) from ASCE; the Kimbrough Medal (1973) from the American Institute of Steel Construction; the Oscar Faber medal (1973) from the Institution of Structural Engineers, London; the International Award of Merit in Structural Engineering (1983) from the International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering IABSE; the AIA Institute Honor for Distinguished Achievement (1983) from the American Institute of Architects; and the John Parmer Award (1987) from Structural Engineers Association of Illinois and Illinois Engineering Hall of Fame from Illinois Engineering Council (2006). He was cited three times by the Engineering News Record (ENR) as one of the “Men who served the best interests of the construction industry”. He was presented with the “Chicagoan of the year” award in architecture and civil engineering by the Junior Chamber of Commerce. He published a large number of technical papers in engineering and architectural journals and, in 1972, was voted “Constructions’ Man of the year”. He received honorary Doctorate degrees from North Western University (1973), Lehigh University (1980), and Die Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule (1980). The Council of Tall Building and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) named one of their awards as Fazlur Khan Lifetime Achievement Medal after him. The Fazlur Rahman Khan Endowed Chair of Structural Engineering and Architecture established in the Lehigh University honours his legacy of engineering advancement and architectural sensibility. He was posthumously awarded the Independence Day Award by the Govt. of Bangladesh in 1999 and a commemorative postal stamp was published in his memory.

When the Liberation War of Bangladesh broke out in 1971, Dr. Khan actively worked on to mobilize the Bangladeshi people in the USA in favor of the Liberation of Bangladesh. He was heavily involved in creating public opinion in favor of Bangladesh and formed the Chicago-based organizations named the Bangladesh Emergency Welfare Appeal and Bangladesh Defense League. He worked to motivate Bangladeshi officers working in the foreign mission to defect Pakistani administration in response to the call of the Mujibnagar Govt. While most of the Bangladeshi officers were ready to defect and establish Missions in favor of Bangladesh, financial uncertainty kept many of them hesitant about the success of such move. At this point, Dr. Khan promised additional financial support for them which led to en-masse defection of all Bangladeshi diplomats and staff in Pakistani missions in both Washington and New York. It is not difficult to understand the depth of his patriotic feeling for his country even though he stayed abroad most of the time.

Dr. FR Khan died of cardiac arrest on March 27, 1982 at the age of 52 when he was working in Jeddah. His untimely death has deprived the world an outstanding innovator who could have excelled further. On his death, the Engineering News Record wrote, “His structures will stand for years, and his ideas will never die.”

References

  1. Fazlur Rahman Khan in Wikipedia (English),
  2. ফজলুররহমানখান Wikipedia (Bangla),
  3. ফজলুররহমানখান Banglapedia
  4. Mufti, A. A. and Bakht, B., “Fazlur Khan (1929–1982): Reflections on His Life and Works,” Canadian Journal of Civil Engineering, 29: 238–24, 2002. DOI: 10.1139/L01-092
  5. DR FR Khan: Father of Modern Skyscrapers, Gulf Property