A Little Lady Liberty

June 14, 2021

A younger “little sister” of the Statue of Liberty is currently en route from France to the United States, making the sea journey 136 years following Lady Liberty’s voyage in 1885. Cast in bronze from a plaster mold used in the process of the Statue of Liberty’s construction, this little statue, not quite ten feet tall, will arrive at Ellis Island in New York Harbor in time for Independence Day celebrations. She will then travel to the gardens of the French Embassy in Washington D.C. to join in France’s Bastille Day celebrations. The statue will remain in Washington D.C. for a decade-long visit before returning to France.

After 16 years in print Engineering Architecture: The Vision of Fazlur R. Khan is no longer offered for sale by the publisher. The book is now out of print.

I’m saddened by this news, but the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, deserves my thanks for keeping the book in its catalog this long. It was not a book that sold well. The list price was high – US$55.00 – which, as I understand it, reflected the high cost of including over 200 illustrations, carefully placed within the text at their appropriate locations. I do not regret this aspect of the book and I am grateful that my editor at W.W. Norton supported my request to include the many illustrations. It is these many, varied, images that not only help explain important technical issues but also help one develop a sense of my father as a person. They are, for me, what makes this record of my father’s life and work truly special.

Birthday tribute

April 4, 2020

April 3 is my father’s birthday – he would be 91. I appreciate and am very happy to see the Chicago History Museum’s tribute to my father on its blog, “Chicago Stories Every Day.”

The Father of Modern Skyscrapers

Chicago Stories Every Day

In Chicago, everyone looks up to the work of Fazlur Rahman Khan, the structural engineer for the Sears Tower and John Hancock Center. Born on this day in 1929 in Bangladesh, Khan came to the United States to study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he earned two master’s degrees and a PhD. He then joined Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, where his innovative work ushered in a new era of skyscrapers. Next time you’re on Franklin Street adjacent to the Willis Tower, you’ll see that it has the honorary designation of “Fazlur R. Khan Way.” Learn more about Chicago’s architectural history.

“The New Colossus”

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land,

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman, with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin-cities frame.


“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she,

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free;

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore –

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me –

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


I look at historical sources and personal experiences Emma Lazarus drew upon in Chapter 11 of Enlightening the World: The Creation of the Statue of Liberty,” pages 164 to 168.


These Four Design Ideas Turned ‘The Hancock Center’ Into An Iconic Skyscraper
This episode in Chicago radio station WBEZ’s Curious City series responds to a listener’s question about Chicago’s John Hancock Center.



The Statue of Liberty is an exceptional work of art, in scale, setting, and design. Her symbols of liberty celebrate our nation’s past achievements, yet this is not a monument to the past. Instead, the statue focuses our sights on the present and on the future. Toward progress.

The people of France who supported the idea of a statue as a gift to the people of the United States were proud of their close association with our country. They admired the integrity and statesmanlike character of the founding fathers as well as the selfless determination of Abraham Lincoln. They were relieved by the conclusion of the American Civil War and the end of slavery. They shared our ideals and aspirations, and they were glad to honor the United States.

The Statue of Liberty came to embody the moral authority that the United States acquired over the course of its first two hundred years. Indeed, the statue’s symbols of liberty and her depiction of forward movement are meaningful precisely because the United States proved itself a principled leader, leading by example, not merely words. This understanding gives the statue a radiance that transcends her physical design.

There have been threats to America’s world standing throughout her history. But when I wrote my book about the statue, Enlightening the World: The Creation of the Statue of Liberty, I believed that, for the most part, people around the world respected the United States. I did not imagine that our political system might be incapacitated in partisan quagmire or that the divisions in our country would flare up into violent confrontations and give rise to expressions of hatred.

And yet the statue, I believe, continues to point forward. She shoulders the burden of our grievances by reminding us of the principles that guided our nation’s growth and enlightenment for over two centuries. Whether we will be re-inspired by them is up to us.


The presentation of the Statue of Liberty as a gift to the United States was celebrated in Paris on July 4, 1884. People filled the streets around the copper foundry’s workshop and yard, as well as climbing onto neighboring rooftops for a good view of the ceremony.  July1884 2

The statue had been fabricated and erected in Paris to ensure that every part was considered and the statue was complete before being shipped to the United States. The U.S. Minister to France accepted the statue on behalf of the President of the United States, Chester A. Arthur. The physical transfer of the statue, however, would not take place until the following June, when 214 crates containing the disassembled statue arrived in New York Harbor aboard a French naval transport, the Isère.

The Isère arrived in the Lower Bay of New York, off Sandy Hook, on June 17, 1885. Two days later she headed up the bay on the last leg of her journey. A formidable entourage, ranging from U.S. and French war ships to small leisure watercraft, prepared to escort the Isère. “The scene,” newspapers from Philadelphia to St. Louis to Los Angeles reported, “was one of the liveliest description. . . . as far as the eye could reach there were vessels without number. . . . The music of a dozen bands flowed out over the water, while the war ships thundered and the forts re-echoed with booming guns.”


Upon reaching Bedloe’s Island, “when the anchor of the Isère was lowered and had obtained a firm grip, there was more firing of cannon, blowing of whistles and shouting of people.” Bedloe’s “island was so full of people,” the New York Sun exclaimed, “that it seemed as if some of them must fall off.” Many more people waited in Lower Manhattan for the start of a land parade. “The city was in holiday attire” to celebrate the arrival of the Isère and the gift she carried, wrote the Boston Daily Advertiser. “Flags were flying from all public buildings and nearly every big store on Broadway was profusely decorated.”

The scene on June 19, 1885, was especially impressive considering that the statue remained below deck, hidden from view, disassembled and packed in 214 huge wooden crates (the crate containing the face alone measured 20 feet long by 12 feet wide). It was another year before construction on Bedloe’s Island was complete and the Statue of Liberty was ready for inauguration – the occasion for another grand celebration – on October 28, 1886.




Google Doodle

April 5, 2017

The Doodle is now in Google’s Doodle Archive, Fazlur Rahman Khan’s 88th Birthday.

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.”

Birthday tribute

April 3, 2017

Today’s Google Doodle is a wonderful tribute to my father on his birthday. Be sure to see it!

Google Doodle for Fazlur Khan

Google’s Birthday Tribute to Fazlur Khan