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Fazlur Khan, pioneering Chicago structural engineer, honored in Google doodle

Tall buildings everywhere can credit their structural layouts to the late Bangladeshi-American engineer

Google/Lydia Nichols

Today, Google honored the late Fazlur Rahman Khan in its daily “doodle” sketch appearing on its homepage. While the Bangladeshi-American designer may not necessarily be a household name outside the realm of architecture and structural engineering, most of the planet’s modern skylines owe a debt to the pioneering work of Dr. Khan.

Fazlur Rahman Khan was born in Dhaka in what is now Bangladesh in 1929 and earned a degree in civil engineering before arriving in the US at age 23. He received two master’s degrees as well as a PhD in structural engineering before joining Chicago’s Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) in 1955.


In 1964, Khan completed the DeWitt Chestnut apartment building—his first project with the firm. Designed to be supported by its facade rather than interior concrete or steel beams, the 42-story Chicago building introduced the “framed tube” structural concept to the world of architecture.

Building off of this revolutionary principle, Khan conceived and perfected the “trussed tube” design with Chicago’s 100-story John Hancock Center and the “bundled tube” layout with the 110-floor Sears—now Willis—Tower. The latter was the world’s tallest building at the time of its completion in 1973 and held the title until 1998.

Subsequent buildings to claim the “world’s tallest” crown—Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Towers, Taipei's Taipei 101, and Dubai's Burj Khalifa—all use a variation of Khan’s tube principle. Though he unexpectedly passed away in 1982 at the age of 52 after suffering a fatal heart attack, Khan’s work informed countless skyscrapers and a generation of engineers to come.

In 1988, the Structural Engineers Association of Illinois commissioned a sculpture of Fazlur Rahman Khan and the Chicago skyline from Spanish artist Carlos Marinas to adorn the lobby of the Willis Tower. In 2009 President Barack Obama mentioned Dr. Khan as an example of Muslim-Americans making important contributions to the country.

Structural Engineers Association of Illinois

Not just a notable engineer, Khan was also known for his humanitarian efforts during Bangladesh's war of independence. He was the founding president of the Bangladesh Emergency Welfare Appeal and the Bangladesh Defense League and made time for both organizations while also juggling his work with SOM.

“A humanitarian in his personal as well as professional life, he was inspired by the belief that his work had a positive impact and he encouraged other engineers not to lose track of the purpose of their profession,” his daughter Yasmin Sabina Khan, told Google. “When he was named Construction’s Man of the Year, he reflected, ‘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.'”

Today would have been Dr. Fazlur Rahman Khan’s 88th birthday.