Fazlur R. Khan was born in 1929 in Dacca, East Bengal, British India (now Bangladesh). He received an undergraduate degree in engineering from the University of Dacca, and completed the M.S and Ph.D. degrees in structural engineering from the University of Illinois in 1955. After several years working in Karachi, he returned to the United States in 1960 to spend his entire career in the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill as a structural engineer, rising to partner in 1970.
His significant contributions to the development of new structural systems were crucial for the new generation of skyscrapers to rise ever higher: the framed-tube structure of the Chestnut-DeWitt Apartments; the trussed tube structural system of the John Hancock Center; and Sears Tower’s bundled tube system. Facile in a totally different medium he designed the tent-like fabric roof for the Hajj pilgrims' terminal at the Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, airport. Numerous projects of his received both architecture and engineering awards; additionally, Khan’s achievements were acknowledged by the American Society of Civil Engineers and of the American Concrete Institute which elected him Fellow, and by Northwestern and Lehigh Universities which bestowed honorary doctorates. Posthumously, he received the Distinguished Achievement Award from the American Institute of Architects and the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.
He was an educator, an adjunct faculty member at Illinois Institute of Technology, and a humanitarian, serving as president of the Bangladesh Emergency Welfare Appeal. Khan died while on a business trip in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in 1982.
Khan discussed his early childhood and education; his arrival in the United States and his University of Illinois education; his projects and colleagues at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; new structural systems developed for SOM buildings.
Chestnut-DeWitt Apartments, Chicago, IL. Photographer: Bill Engdahl for Hedrich Blessing. Courtesy Chicago History Museum.
Hajj Terminal, King Abdulaziz International Airport, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
"I was always interested in unusual things, not the standard curriculum. I would go out and read other books and find other nuances to a particular problem." (p.12)
"I feel that every job has constant excitements. You have to create them, you have to find them." (p.78)
"...I had a visual feeling of what is going on, not a mathematical, abstract feeling…It’s this kind of an empathy into a structure, I think, is when [sic] sometimes sustains me." (p.104-105)
Onterie Center, Chicago, IL. Greg Murphey, photographer.