Google Doodle Hails Fazlur Rahman Khan
April 3, 2017
By Samantha Sharf
Today’s Google Doodle honors Fazlur Rahman Khan, a structural engineer who helped design some of America’s most iconic skyscrapers. As importantly, Khan’s innovative “tube” system made it cheaper, safer and easier to build super-tall structures, enabling the look and density of our cities today.
“A surge in demand for residential and office space in the 1960s and early 1970s made tall buildings desirable, but traditional design and construction methods were uneconomical, having evolved for shorter structures,” writes Yasmin Sabina Khan, Fazlur’s daughter, for Google on the day that would have been her father’s 88thbirthday. “He recognized that a new approach to skyscraper design was needed and set his mind to the task.”
Khan’s “trussed tube” system was first used in 1965 for Chicago’s 100-story John Hancock Center (shown in the Doodle). Six years later, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill—the legendary architecture firm where Khan worked—used his modified “bundled tube” system for the 110-story design of the Sears Tower (now the Willis Tower), also in Chicago. The building would remain the world's tallest for 22 years and was only surpassed as the tallest in the United States in 2013, when One World Trade Center in New York reached its full height.
“The tower's structure comprises nine squared tubes, each rigid within itself without internal supports. The tubes are bundled together as a closed square above the first 50 stories, and terminate at varying heights, creating a multi-tiered form,” explains the SOM website.
Since 2015, Willis Tower has been owned by Blackstone, the private-equity giant with the world’s largest real-estate portfolio. In February, Blackstone said it will invest $500 million to transform the tower into the office building of the future. That cool half billion is the largest sum the firm has ever put toward renovating a single property.
“Willis Tower has always been iconic within Chicago’s skyline and around the world,” said Jon Gray, head of Blackstone’s real estate division, when the investment was announced. “Our goal is to restore Willis Tower to its original prominence and make it a must-visit destination in Chicago for tenants, local residents and tourists.”
“It’s not every day that you can gain control of such an iconic property with so much opportunity to transform it and create value,” added Nadeem Meghji, head of real estate Americas for Blackstone, in an interview. "The iconic nature of the property we viewed as being attractive, but fundamentally we also saw a really well located office building." Downtown Chicago has in recent years been experiencing an office resurgence with large companies such as McDonald's moving their headquarters there from the suburbs.
Renovation work will begin this summer and is expected to generate 2,500 jobs. The project is scheduled for completion in 2019. The plan calls for a total re-imagining of the building’s 4.5 million square feet of office, retail and entertainment space. Offices will be converted to open floor plans, taking advantage of the building's high ceilings. The 15,000 employees who work in Willis will also enjoy a 150,000-square-foot amenity space including a fitness center, lounges and private event areas. There will also be updates to public spaces, including 300,000 square feet of spaces for stores and restaurants, as well as the tower’s famous 103rd floor Skydeck. The Skydeck receives 1.7 million visitors each year.
One thing that won't be changing: Khan's pioneering internal structure.