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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



Engineering Architecture: The Vision of Fazlur R. Khan by Yasmin Sabina Khan (W. W. Norton & Company) The engineer of Chicago's John Hancock Center and Sears Tower, Fazlur Khan (1929-1982) pioneered structural systems for high-rise buildings that broadened the palette of forms and expressions available to design professionals today. Examining projects at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, including previously unpublished material, this study of Khan's career provides insight into architectural and engineering practice. 200 illustrations.

In Engineering Architecture, Yasmin Sabina Khan—Khan's daughter and herself a structural engineer—describes Khan's development of structural systems through an analysis of select building projects. Presenting new material on SOM projects, her account examines the archi­tectural building program that guided each design and con­veys the complexity of the design process, providing insight into the concerns of architectural and engineering practice.

Structural engineer Fazlur R. Khan (1929—1982) shaped the skyline of cities around the world with his pioneering structural systems for high-rise design. Working closely with architect Bruce J. Graham and his other partners at Skid-more, Owings & Merrill, Khan developed building systems in the 1960s and 1970s that form the basis for tall-building construction today: the framed tube, the bundled tube, the composite steel—concrete system—all initiated in his own design projects—and the superframe. Khan's innovations encompassed the technical and the aesthetic, ensuring architectural integrity through structural logic. His designs for the John Hancock Center and the Sears Tower (still the tallest building in the United States) in Chicago exemplify this integrity. The grace and articulate form of the Hancock Center was founded on a bold and exceptionally efficient structural system; the Sears Tower, groundbreaking in its potential for shaping architectural space, introduced Khan's bundled-tube concept for large-scale construction. His designs for long-span roof structures were similarly pro­gressive. For the Hajj Terminal at the international airport in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Khan melded historical context with sophisticated technology to create a meaningful environment for travelers while advancing the field of tensile struc­ture construction.

Excerpt: This account of my father's life and career focuses on his role in modern archi­tectural history. As a structural engineer myself, I am aware of the unique and innovative qualities of his work and astounded by the range of structural types that he employed. At the same time, I knew my father as a warm, attentive, and vivacious human being whose strong identity infused all aspects of his life. Each endeavor to which he dedicated his efforts was informed by his back-ground in Bengal, by the moral compass that guided him as an adult, and by the optimism that carried him through unexpected events. His manner of communicating with people and his concern with the quality of the built environment were, likewise, essential components of his career. In setting out to record my father's achievements, I sought to take advantage of the benefit of a daughter's familiarity to illuminate his professional life. While maintaining the perspective of a design professional in recounting his search for efficient and fitting design solutions, I also observe the personal attributes that shaped his ambitions for engineering and architecture.

My father's approach to design problems—attempting to view them in their totality rather than solely in technical terms—was a key element of his achieve­ments. Following his example, this history of my father's career examines his work within the setting of the design practice and the range of problems that each project team aims to resolve. Threaded through the story of his personal accomplishments and process of discovery is the broader story of architectural and engineering design and the practical exigencies that influence all design work. In that architecture must be understood in the context of its time, I also examine the economic and social climate of the years in which he worked.

Because my father's character strongly affected his career, have concen­trated on his method of crafting solutions to problems. His steadfastness and purpose were part of his personal grounding; by age thirty he had developed a self-awareness and philosophy that would guide him throughout his life. The main substance of biographical information is provided in Chapter 1, which covers my father's childhood and young adulthood. In the opening section to Part III, I recount his contributions to his homeland, East Bengal, in 1971. This period both recalled his intimacy with a non-Western way of life and drew upon his personal strengths to reconcile the distance between his two homes.

Although I know now, and perhaps suspected then, that my father led a rich and busy life outside our home, I never felt competition with that other life. He was relaxed, attentive to a daughter's wishes, and of consistent good humor. While showing intimate concern for me, he allowed me to grow into my own person. When I headed off to college, my goal was to teach mathematics in grade school or high school. He supported my intention, not once suggesting that I might like to choose engineering instead. Within a short time, all the same, I found my way into structural engineering. Though unstated, his exam­ple undoubtedly played a part in this decision, and once I had made the deter­mination, he endeavored to both assist me with, and inspire interest in, my studies. When I was learning to design structural members, for instance, he illustrated a concise building design problem to show how my studies fit into a broader design effort.

The several years that I have dedicated to researching the material for this book are a natural response to my father's pure affection. I had unique access to resources and a relevant background for interpreting them, which made such a project possible. When I began work on this text, there was no other book on my father. In the interim, Art of the Skyscraper: The Genius of Fazlur Khan, writ-ten by Mir M. Ali, has been published. This book describes many of the mas­ter's thesis projects at the Illinois Institute of Technology for which my father was structural advisor and several of the programs that have been established to continue his legacy in building design, programs such as the Khan Chair at Lehigh University. I had the luxury, therefore, to devote my text to a detailed examination of a selection of design projects and other activities about which my father felt strongly. For each project, I have attempted to understand the programmatic objectives that guided the design team, the challenges faced in design, how each project team searched out relevant and innovative solutions to specific design problems, and the evolution of my father's thinking. I present the projects in chronological order to reflect the continuum in his creative process. Although his role in these projects varies, from design engi­neer to partner responsible for the project, they are linked by their pioneering quality; in the case of progressive structural systems, by their initiation of struc­tural concepts. To avoid unnecessary repetition, I do not describe all elements of design and construction on each building project; of the myriad of people involved on each design project, only a few of their important roles are delineated. To maintain the narrative flow, I use only imperial measurements, which the SOM office generally used at the time.

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) generously opened its project files for my review without restriction. From careful study of calculations, office corre­spondence, and informal memoranda, I was able to recreate—in some cases more intricately than in others—the process of design. Journal articles and texts from the years of my father's practice enabled me to appreciate the rele­vance, basis, and impact of his work. In addition, my father's personal collec­tion included published and unpublished articles; an autobiographical transcript from 1978; notes in his files at home; and notebooks that he carried with him in his jacket pocket, in which he recorded meeting discussions, thoughts for presentations, history that he learned, and food that he sampled while traveling. Letters that he wrote to my mother and a diary from the 1950s assisted me in piecing together and understanding his formative years. And, providing the fabric for this undertaking were, of course, my own memories of his life.

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