Text accompanying Birthday Tribute
April 3, 2017
I wrote a short post to accompany the Doodle. It will be archived with the Doodle in Google’s Doodle Archive.
As a youth my father never imagined that one day he would be building skyscrapers. He was born in East Bengal, British India, which became East Pakistan in 1947 and then Bangladesh in 1971. Graduate studies first brought him to the United States and the promise of challenging work drew him to a busy design office in Chicago – that of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill – where he remained until his death in 1982. 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. He recognized that a new approach to skyscraper design was needed and set his mind to the task.
In 1972, at 42 years old, he was named Construction’s Man of the Year by Engineering News-Record. His pioneering work in skyscraper design was rejuvenating the design profession as he developed new ways of framing tall buildings, dramatically improving structural efficiency and economy. In 1965 he had initiated the “trussed tube” structural system with his design for Chicago’s 100-story John Hancock Center. By 1971 he was designing the world’s tallest building, the Sears Tower, using his latest innovation, the “bundled tube” (the Sears Tower, now Willis Tower, remained the “world’s tallest” for the next 22 years). His innovations subsequently formed the basis of tall building design.
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. 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.”