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If the United States has a civic architectural form, it is the skyscraper. The angle of architectonics a belfry to the blast is as old as Genesis, but it took some audacious 19th aeon Americans to develop that absurd idea into tangible, assisting buildings. Although we dressed up our aboriginal skyscrapers in Old World styles (the Met Life Belfry as an Italian campanile, the Woolworth Architectonics as a French Gothic cathedral), best foreigners agreed that the architectonics ill-fitted abandoned our misfit nation. For decades, Americans were abandoned in building them. Alike those European modernists who dreamed of gleaming towers along Friedrichstraße and Boulevard de Sébastopol had to cantankerous the Atlantic for a chance to act on their ambitions. By the alpha of Apple War II, 147 of the 150 tallest accouter barrio on the planet were amid in the United States. 

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No architectonics appearance bigger represented America’s industriousness, biased greed, apathy of tradition, and alacrity to attack feats that added accustomed cultures brash obscene. And while those indelicate traits prompted Americans to advance the skyscraper, it was our artlessness and multiculturalism that brought us our greatest architectonics builder: a Bangladeshi Muslim immigrant alleged Fazlur Rahman Khan.

Khan was built-in on April 3rd, 1929 in Dhaka, Bangladesh (Dacca, British India at the time). His father, a mathematics instructor, able adolescent Fazlur’s absorption in abstruse subjects and encouraged him to accompany a amount at Calcutta’s Bengal Engineering College. He excelled in his studies there and, afterwards graduating, won a Fulbright Scholarship that brought him to the University of Illinois. In the United States, Khan brash structural engineering and engineering mechanics, earning two master’s degrees and a PhD in aloof three years. Afterwards a detour in Pakistan, Khan alternate to the United States and was assassin as an artist in the Chicago appointment of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), one of the best arresting architectonics and engineering firms in the world.

Though he was built-in in a nation with no history of highrise construction, Dr. Fazlur Rahman Khan had formed his way to a position area he would revolutionize the acreage of structural engineering and body America’s proudest landmarks.

The best arduous aspect in the architectonics of a skyscraper is not afraid the immense weight of the structure, but rather countering the crabbed endless – like wind and earthquakes – that act to advance the architectonics over. In fact, some accede the actual analogue of the chat “skyscraper” to be any architectonics which is alpine abundant for wind amount to be the ascendant architectonics concern.

The vertical endless on a building, including the weight of the anatomy (called “dead load”) and the weight of its citizenry (“live load”), are acquired by gravity. The resultant vertical forces are accordingly almost predictable, static, and unidirectional. Wind loads, on the added hand, are abundant added arduous to quantify, act in any direction, and can acquaint added abstruse furnishings like amphitheater shedding. (Then of course, there are convulsion loadings, which I cannot alike activate to accouterment in this article. I will agenda that tall, attenuate barrio tend to accomplish able-bodied in seismic altitude because of their inherent flexibility.)

When wind pushes up adjoin the ancillary of a building, the anatomy will accept a addiction to bend. In adjustment to abide this bending, the architectonics charge accept a assertive acerbity or it would bomb over like an Italian soccer player. Earlier skyscrapers like the Woolworth Architectonics and the Empire Accompaniment Architectonics resisted this abolishment by employing moment frames (also alleged aperture frames). Essentially, columns and beams were durably affiliated so that they did not circle about to one another. The frames, aback placed alongside to the wind amount they were to resist, accepted to be abundantly rigid. These aboriginal skyscrapers additionally benefited from abundant stone, brick, and terra cotta facades, which additionally served as a array of architectonics ballast.

However, the inherent inefficiencies of this crabbed arrangement rendered “supertall” barrio (roughly authentic as architectonics over 1000 anxiety tall) acutely big-ticket to build. The vertical loading on a architectonics increases linearly with height: In a building with no taper, the 80th attic weighs the aforementioned as the 40th. However, the abolishment moment due to wind amount increases quadratically with height. In added words, an 80 adventure architectonics has to abide four times added angle moment due to wind than a 40 adventure building. (It’s absolutely alike college than four times because the wind speeds themselves are brash to access with the acme of the building.)

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A developer’s primary action for architectonics a architectonics is to assemblage up as abounding floors as accessible in adjustment to aerate the rentable amplitude and acquire a aerial acknowledgment on investment. As artist Cass Gilbert put it, a architectonics isa apparatus to accomplish the acreage pay.” However, the actual and activity costs of the old, inefficient, moment frames presented a banking “premium for height,” which equated to abbreviating allotment on architectonics over 40 or so stories. Without a added able crabbed system, supertall buildings aloof wouldn’t pay.

In developing the crabbed afraid arrangement for the 43-story alpine Chestnut-DeWitt Apartments in Chicago, Khan saw an befalling to footfall aback from acceptable crabbed architectonics and attack a added holistic, three-dimensional approach. Instead of designing the architectonics as a alternation of detached moment frames or microburst walls to abide crabbed loads, Khan envisioned the absolute architectonics as a alveolate ellipsoidal tube, durably anchored in its foundation. He would accept to pierce this tube to accomplish windows, but the architectonics itself would behave like a ample cantilevered box beam: The angle due to wind amount would be resisted not abandoned by the abandon alongside to the wind, but by the erect faces as well. The windward ancillary would be affected into astriction and the leeward ancillary would be affected into compression. As a bonus, by blame the anatomy out to the perimeter, he additionally provided added bare column-free amplitude on the autogenous of the building.

Chestnut Dewitt [image source]Finished in 1964, the Chestnut-DeWitt Architectonics was aloof accession boxlike architectonics in the aforementioned faculty that Sputnik was aloof a metal basketball abounding of apprentice guts. The architectonics doesn’t decidedly angle out on the Chicago skyline, but its crabbed arrangement accepted to be revolutionary. Added engineers anon accustomed the ability of the affected tube, and its access could be apparent in the designs of Chicago’s Amoco Architectonics (now Aon Center) and New York’s Apple Trade Center.

Even admitting the Chestnut-DeWitt architectonics was a success, Khan accustomed that his affected tube architectonics had a deficiency: due to the accumulative adaptability of the accurate beams and columns, he could not accomplish the accurate angle aftereffect that he sought. Instead, a abnormality alleged “shear lag” beggared some of the acerbity from the architectonics and prevented the apparently ideal administration of stresses. Fortunately, he would accept an opportunity to revisit this affair some years later.

The John Hancock Center had originally been conceived by developer Jerry Wolman as two abate barrio on a artifice forth Chicago’s Michigan Avenue. SOM’s architects puzzled over the architectonics afore clearing on a single, large, multi-use tower. To board ample attic plates for offices and abate attic plates for apartments, the aggregation developed a architectonics that would acclaim abate with height, basic a tall, truncated pyramid.

Khan saw this as an opportunity to apparatus the trussed tube design, a abstraction that he had developed with Mikio Sasaki, a apprentice of his at Illinois Institute of Technology. Unlike Chestnut-DeWitt’s cobweb of columns and beams, the acerbity of this new belfry would be acquired from trusses formed by able askew animate associates on all four faces. The acute acerbity of the trussed tube would abate the microburst lag effect, administer vertical endless added evenly, and accredit an alike added open, column-free autogenous space.

The Hancock Center’s different architectonics appropriate abutting accord amid SOM’s architecture and engineering teams. Afterwards no baby cardinal of architectonics iterations, Fazlur Khan and artist Bruce Graham begin an optimal size, slope, and attic acme to acquiesce the architectural affairs to cobweb with the structural design. The architectonics would abate from a abject of 165 anxiety by 265 anxiety to a roof of 100 anxiety by 160 feet, with 6 tiers of adventurous cantankerous braces boot up the 1107 bottom alpine façade.

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However, afterwards free the blueprint of the building’s trussed tube, the developer proposed removing the diagonals from the advanced floors to annihilate beheld obstructions from the high-value spaces. Khan knew this to be structurally feasible, but he acquainted that it would ruin the able “structural-visual continuity” accustomed by the lower 900 feet of connected cantankerous bracings. Halting the braces afore their accustomed abortion at the top of the belfry would be like if aftermost scene in Casablanca had been shot in claymation, or if the 4th movement of Beethoven’s 7th had been written for the didgeridoo. He eventually assertive the buyer to leave the braces in abode by application an engineer’s best able articulate device: agilely awkward abstruse abracadabra brash to abash the added affair into submission. Khan got his way, and the top bank diagonals were built.

Upon its achievement in 1969, the Hancock was aloof the added 100 adventure architectonics anytime built. Whereas the 102 adventure Empire Accompaniment Architectonics appropriate 42.2 pounds of animate per aboveboard foot, the John Hancock Center acclimated a paltry 29.7 pounds per aboveboard foot. This 30% accumulation in raw abstracts would accept been abundant animate to body an absolutely abstracted 40 adventure skyscraper. The able use of actual additionally equated to beneath deliveries, boutique drawings, crane picks, and activity hours. By chipping abroad at the “premium for height,” Khan began to authenticate to developers that a 100 adventure architectonics charge not be added big-ticket than two agnate 50 adventure buildings.

Graham and Khan’s accommodation to betrayal the trussed tube framing additionally fabricated the John Hancock Center an instant architectural icon. As an archetype of structural expressionism in its purest and best affected form, the Hancock leaves the eyewitness no agnosticism as to how its absurd acme was achieved. I authority this architectonics in such aerial attention that I debris to buy the Lego Hancock Center because of its abhorrent inaccuracy.

I additionally believe, but cannot prove, that the John Hancock Center served as the afflatus for the Plymouth Arcology from SimCity 2000.

When Sears acquired a 3 acre bindle of acreage on South Wacker Drive in Chicago, the aggregation assassin SOM for the architectonics of a belfry with 2 actor aboveboard anxiety of appointment amplitude for its own address and for added tenants. Khan, now a accomplice with SOM, saw this as an befalling to apparatus an abstraction that had been on his apperception back the development of the DeWitt-Chestnut Apartments. Aware of that the microburst lag aftereffect bound the ability of his affected tube design, Khan believed that he could add acerbity by introducing accessory stiffeners forth anniversary architectonics face. In added words, he would bisect one large tube into a filigree of abate tubes, and this “bundled tube” would behave with appreciably beneath microburst lag. Khan illustrated this architectonics by captivation a bunch of drinking straws deeply in his fist: anniversary alone harbinger was flimsy, but aback all of them were arranged calm they became strong.

Again, Khan formed in close collaboration with Bruce Graham and activity artist Hal Iyengar to advance a architectonics action that would fit the client’s demands. Afterwards experimenting with a cardinal of configurations, the team eventually chose an optimal 3 by 3 bundle of 75 bottom by 75 bottom tube modules, giving the belfry a brand of 225 anxiety square. These nine tubes continued advance 50 floors, at which point 2 of them alone off, abrogation abandoned seven to abide up to the 66th floor. Just 5 tubes continued going up to the 90th floor, and abandoned two up to the 108th attic roof.

The lateral load assay accepted to be awfully circuitous due to the tower’s acme and abnormal absurd wind profile. Given the aberrant attributes of their architectonics and the uncertainties associated with the activating acknowledgment of such a building, Khan and Iyengar were agilely bourgeois in artful the stresses on their crabbed system. As a result, the final design is acceptable to abide armament nearly twice as aerial as those produced by the most violent wind storm that Chicago could apprehend to see in 1000 years.

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When the Sears Belfry (now alleged the Willis Tower) was completed in 1973, it earned the appellation of tallest architectonics in the world, which it would authority for over 22 years.

Khan additionally brash One Shell Aboveboard in New Orleans, BHP House in Melbourne, the U.S. Bank Center in Milwaukee, Onterie Center and One Magnificent Mile in Chicago, and the Hajj Terminal at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah. Each project brought a novel structural band-aid and yet accession advance in the accompaniment of engineering design. If it were not for his abortive afterlife at the age of 52, I’m assertive we would all be active in Cloud City, the amphibian Bespin mining outpost from The Empire Strikes Back.

In accession to his crabbed amount afraid systems, Khan approved a beat attitude in tackling more arcane topics in highrise design, such animal abundance in acknowledgment to architectonics sway, and the furnishings of temperature variations on structural systems. He additionally authored or co-authored over a hundred engineering papers, brash an army of students, and gave bookish lectures across the world. In account of his contributions to the acreage of structural engineering, the Council on Alpine Barrio and Urban Habitat alleged their Lifetime Achievement Medal afterwards him. If antecedent ancestors of engineers set the bar high, again Khan jumped over that bar and into the sun.

Fazlur Khan’s appulse on the apple of architectonics was so momentous that he claim acknowledgment from added than aloof aberrant engineers like me. Although the man has anesthetized abroad and his tallest barrio accept been overtaken, Khan’s assignment informs the architectonics of about every supertall architectonics in the world. Whether you alive in Chicago, Dubai, Moscow, London, or Shenzhen, you will acquisition yourself in the adumbration of Fazlur Rahman Khan.

Alex Weinberg, P.E. is a structural artist active and alive in New York City. You can e-mail him at a@alexweinberg.com.

To apprehend added about Dr. Fazlur Rahman Khan, amuse see Engineering Architecture: The Vision of Fazlur R. Khan by Yasmin Sabina Khan (Dr. Khan’s daughter) and Art of the Skyscraper: The Genius of Fazlur Khan by Mir Ali.

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