Foreword to the Korean translation of Engineering Architecture: The Vision of Fazlur R. Khan

Korean translation of Engineering Architecture: The Vision of Fazlur R. Khan

Korean translation of Engineering Architecture; Foreword by Yasmin Sabina Khan

I am very happy that my story of my father’s life and work has been made available to new readers with this Korean translation. My father would have been pleased as well. He devoted much of his time to sharing the knowledge he had acquired. He traveled widely and, through his presentations and writings, sought to provide designers around the world access to the latest developments in structural engineering.

Today the structural systems that he conceived and initiated in his own building projects are accepted standards in the profession. Systems such as the framed tube, the tube-in-tube, and the bundled tube are learned by students and employed by practicing engineers and architects. In a similar manner, my father’s design of the tent-like roof units at the New Jeddah International Airport in Saudi Arabia set a new standard for the application of structural fabric in tensile structures.

Whenever I read about the efficient structural systems available to designers I feel proud of the significant contribution my father made to his profession. But I regret that such descriptions overlook the creative process that led to each new development. For instance, why and how was the bundled tube developed? Understanding my father’s determination to find systems appropriate for the 100-story range is an important piece of the story. He believed that the single, framed tube should be limited to buildings under fifty, at most seventy, stories, and this concern inspired his search for new systems.

My father’s work also dispels the more traditional view, common among laypeople as well as architects, that engineering is basically a mathematical exercise. Rather than apply engineering concepts only in established formats, he recognized new ways and new conditions for their application. By way of an intimate understanding of these concepts he obtained efficient and economic designs. The development of the framed tube illustrates this distinction. A designer could place structural walls at the exterior of a building and, feeling satisfied, calculate the moment of inertia of these strategically located walls. However, transforming these four walls into a tubular structure, as my father did, required both insight and a confident innovative spirit.

Another element often overlooked in descriptions of structural concepts is the communication, and collaboration, between people that is essential to successful progressive design. My father’s working relationships with other engineers, researchers, clients, and architects—notably architecture partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill Bruce Graham—played an important part in his career. He strove to advance structural engineering, in part by creating a role for the engineer, alongside the architect, in crafting a building’s conceptual design. It was Bruce Graham’s enthusiasm for rational structures, my father said, that motivated him to search for structural solutions worthy of expression. Graham and my father’s collaboration and respect for each other sparked their creativity.

I was reminded of the strength of this personal connection last month when I attended a memorial service for Bruce Graham, who survived my father by 28 years. Printed on the program for the memorial service was a eulogy Graham wrote for my father in 1982. This eulogy, which Graham’s family, together with his former partners at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, chose to feature, eloquently displays the heartfelt respect Graham felt for my father, as an engineer and as a person. It was deeply moving for me to read Graham’s words about my father and to see the memory of my father’s influence in the world endure.

It is similarly meaningful for me to learn that a new generation of students today is discovering my father. They are intrigued by the way he thought, the manner in which he worked with people, and the path of his numerous developments. These are in fact aspects of my father’s life and work that I examine in this book. In writing this book I aimed to explore how and why my father developed structural systems and advanced structural materials; and I was fortunate to be able to describe his achievements from the perspective of a structural engineer. At the same time, I drew on my familiarity with my father to explain how his personal background and character shaped his work.

The sentiment I expressed in my Preface seven years ago still holds true: I hope that within my father’s experience readers may discover not only example, but also inspiration. I am grateful to the many people who made it possible to bring this book to new readers, and extend my sincere thanks to the translators who dedicated significant time and effort to this project.

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