March 11, 2014

I could not help feeling a tinge of disappointment on hearing that the Sears (now Willis) Tower has lost its title as tallest building in North America to One World Trade Center in New York. But I was pleased that the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat executive director, in announcing the height of One World Trade Center, recalled the building designers’ early vision of a spire and beacon honoring the Statue of Liberty. The spire of One World Trade Center “which holds the beacon light,” he said, “shining out at the symbolic height of 1,776 feet, is especially poignant – echoing the similarly symbolic beacon atop the Statue of Liberty across the water.” In fact, in early drawings of 1WTC the designers showed the spire rising at one side of the tower (rather than centered on the roof).

One World Trade Center (1WTC) in New York, originally known as the Freedom Tower, has become “The Top of America,” as this week’s issue of Time magazine puts it. According to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), the organization that determines how a building’s height is measured, 1WTC’s height to architectural top is 1,776 feet. This includes the 408-foot-tall spire that rises above the main structure of the building. In announcing the CTBUH decision to include the spire in its measurement, the organization’s executive director noted the symbolic importance of the spire reaching to 1,776 feet and the Height Committee’s confidence that the spire will remain a permanent architectural feature of the building.

So, the Sears Tower (now Willis Tower) in Chicago has lost its title as the tallest building in North America (it was the World’s Tallest Building from its completion in 1974 to 1996, when it lost that title to the Petronas Towers). The main roof level at the top of the building structure is actually higher at the Willis Tower in Chicago than at 1WTC: 1,451 feet at the Willis Tower vs. 1,368 feet to the steel parapet at 1WTC. But since the late 1990s the CTBUH has evaluated buildings according to several measurements, with height to architectural top determining the official building height. Initially there were four measurement categories; these have been reduced to three, eliminating the height to roof measurement.

The current three categories of measurement are:

  1. Height to architectural top. Permanent spires are included in this measurement. 1WTC’s height to architectural top is 1,776 feet; the Willis Tower’s height to architectural top is 1,451 feet.
  2. Height to highest occupied floor. 1WTC’s highest occupied floor is at 1,268 feet; the Willis Tower’s highest occupied floor is at 1,354 feet.
  3. Height to tip. This measurement includes antennas. 1WTC’s height to tip is 1,792 feet; the Willis Tower’s height to tip measures 1,729 feet.

March 8, 2014

A number of people have asked about my father’s efforts to help his homeland during the liberation war of 1971. This is indeed an important part of his life so I have added a page – titled 1971: Bangladesh Liberation War – to my website The text is based on the section “Crisis in Bangladesh” in Engineering Architecture: The Vision of Fazlur R. Khan.

My thanks to everyone who asked about my father’s efforts.

Good news at Liberty Island

October 14, 2013

The Statue of Liberty reopened yesterday, despite the continuing US government shutdown.
All parks run by the National Park Service closed as a result of the shutdown but the State of New York offered to fund the operations at Liberty Island so that it could reopen—for six days, initially. The state and the National Park Service plan to renegotiate every few days to continue this arrangement, until the shutdown has ended.

September 5, 2013

It was also during Bartholdi’s 1871 visit that he discovered Bedloe’s Island. Although he was still forming the liberty statue in his mind when he arrived in New York, as soon as he saw the island he knew that it might just be the right site for the statue. Ten days later he took a closer look and became enthusiastic, now convinced that this was “the best site.” Symbolically, the island was also perfect for a statue intended for the nation, in that it belonged, not to a single state, but to the federal government.Statue of Liberty

Bartholdi hoped to pursue this idea and, thanks to Édouard Laboulaye’s connections in the U.S., had the opportunity to present it directly to Ulysses S. Grant, president of the United States. Édouard Laboulaye was known in the U.S. as a friend of America: he admired the American legal and political institutions and lectured about them at the Collège de France in Paris, and he assisted American campaigns by writing articles for U.S. publication, supporting Abraham Lincoln in the early 1860s and Grant in 1868. In the summer of 1871 Bartholdi paid a short visit to President Grant, who was staying at his summer cottage with his family. “I spent an interesting half hour with the Grants,” Bartholdi wrote his mother. “There is no formality.” Bartholdi asked about the possibility of obtaining Bedloe’s Island for the proposed statue. The idea apparently appealed to the president and he assured Bartholdi that, if the project moved ahead, he would do what he could to designate Bedloe’s Island for the purpose. He kept his word, and in 1877 Grant signed a resolution designating an island site for the anticipated gift from the people of France. The statue was completed in 1886 but it was not until 1956 that the island was renamed Liberty Island.

Bartholdi had volunteered to design a liberty statue for America several years before his trip to the U.S. in 1871. The political situation in France and war in Europe had delayed the start of the project, and when he was finally ready to begin work on the design he realized that he must first get to know more about America – her people, her art, her natural landscape. It was important that this liberty statue, while having broad, universal meaning, celebrate the life and achievements of the United States.
As a statue representing a “grand idea” Bartholdi felt from the start that it should be large. What he experienced in the United States not only confirmed his inclination but also encouraged him to think in even grander terms. Shortly after he arrived, in June 1871, he wrote to his mother from a beach resort in New Jersey, “Everything is big in these hotels, even the petit pois.” And then he traveled west. Walking among redwood trees in California, he immediately referred to them as “colossal.” “These colossi are superb,” he wrote, “to say nothing of the magnificent trees around them.” Redwoods in California
It had become clear to Bartholdi, in a personal more than an abstract manner, that the scale of America is large – and the liberty statue could be, as well. Moved by the beauty and magnificence of the forest in California, he made a sketch of the redwoods to send to Édouard Laboulaye, the central sponsor of the statue. The natural grandeur of these colossi seems to have made a lasting impression. Announcing the fundraising campaign in France a few years later, Laboulaye and the Franco-American Union described the statue of Liberty Enlightening the World as a “colossal statue.”

Auguste Bartholdi, sculptor of the Statue of LibertyAs August draws to a close, I have been thinking of another summer, that of 1871, and Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s first visit to America. Bartholdi, the French sculptor who would design the Statue of Liberty, spent four months in the United States that year, meeting with people in cities along the East Coast to discuss the idea of a liberty statue and then traveling west across the country, to California. From the window of his train he looked out on the plains of the Midwest, on high plateaus, mountains and valleys, and an abundance of wildlife that is difficult to imagine today—one herd of buffalo, he estimated, numbered around one thousand. BisonHe spotted an Indian woman with a child on her back, he recorded in his journal shortly after leaving Omaha, and marveled at scenes that were like “something out of a fairy tale.” Bartholdi was mesmerized by the scale and beauty of the land he traveled through; it lifted his soul and colored his imagination. By the time he was heading back east his journal entries, previously brief, had become poetic. “For some time we passed through superb forests, to which the autumn has begun to give the most lovely tints. The bindweed and Virginia creeper, in autumnal colors, stretch from one tree to another as if to enclose the forest recesses, which are already being invaded by the woodman’s axe. These plants, like a band of voluptuaries, with their feet in the rich, swampy earth and their heads bathed in sunlight seem to indulge in gestures of the wildest extravagance.”
Bartholdi’s experience of America that summer convinced him to pursue the idea for a liberty statue, and established an enduring personal commitment to the project.