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Fazlur Rahman Khan: remembering a skyscraper pioneer

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Today would have been his 88th birthday

Chicago skyline
The John Hancock Center, as seen from the skydeck at Willis Tower
Paula Abrahao/Flickr

When you pull up Google today, you’ll see a man going “Ta-da!” next to a dark, tapered tower forming the second “o” of the company’s logo. Who is it? The magician in this scene is none other than pioneering structural engineer, Fazlur Rahman Khan, who would have turned 88 today. Khan, who passed away from an heart attack in 1982, was best known for devising the structural systems behind Chicago’s tallest buildings completed in the late 20th-century, and subsequently influencing the design of many a modern skyscraper to come.

After completing his graduate studies, earning two master’s and a PhD in structural engineering, the Bangladeshi-American engineer joined renowned architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in Chicago in 1955 and would spend the rest of his career there, eventually making partner in 1966. In that time, he introduced the game-changing “tubular” way of building tall, in which a tower could be supported by its envelope—the “tube”—reinforced with a ton of trussing, framing, and bracing. The principle was put on full display in the 100-story John Hancock Center, completed in 1965, and then the 108-floor Willis Tower (née Sears Tower), which demonstrated the concept of “bundled tubes” and held the title of “World’s tallest building” between 1973 and 1998.

The same idea serves as the basis for many of today’s tallest buildings, including the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong, and the current world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. To celebrate Khan, we’ve culled together some of the best Instagrams capturing the most notable buildings he worked on as structural engineer. Next time you visit and snap a shot of these buildings or any modern skyscraper, really, say a thanks to Fazlur Rahman Khan.

Willis Tower, Chicago, IL

A post shared by James Lee (@james950417) on

John Hancock Center, Chicago, IL

A post shared by Dewy Suparerk (@dewylicious) on

Onterie Center, Chicago, IL

A post shared by Eric Keune (@erkitekt) on

A post shared by Jennifer Weinberg (@jentemple) on

One Shell Plaza, Houston, TX

A post shared by Arul (@arulletchumanadass) on

A post shared by Paula Puffer (@paulapuffer) on

One Shell Square, New Orleans, LA

A post shared by Ceci (@cecilargo) on

U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, CO

A post shared by JB (@jbes3) on

A post shared by Faiza Mehmood (@faiza.mehmoodd) on

U.S. Bank Center, Milwaukee, WI

A post shared by Kaitlyn (@kaitlyn.luckow) on