• Reaching New Heights: Fazlur Rahman Khan and The Skyscraper
    Laila Kazmi
    Laila Kazmi

Steel worker walking at John Hancock Center under construction 1967. Photo: Courtesy SOM. Ezra Stoller © Esto

In 1955, America was experiencing a post-World War II economic boom. There was a flurry of new construction. A young engineering graduate, Fazlur Rahman Khan (1929–1982), an immigrant from South Asia, arrived in Chicago after earning two master’s degrees and a doctorate in just three years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He soon found himself employed at the architecture firm, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). He had simply walked into the firm’s office, requested an interview, and left with a job offer in hand. At SOM, he went on to overcome unprecedented challenges and design the Sears Tower—America’s tallest building from the time of its completion in 1973 until 1998—and develop a series of structural systems that would change the course of the skyscraper, allowing builders to go higher than ever before possible. This is the untold story of a man who was curious about the world, and loved people, music, and poetry as much as he loved science and engineering.

Laila Kazmi is a two time regional Emmy Award-winning producer, director, and editor, and a six time nominee. Her documentary shorts have aired on PBS television stations, Seattle Channel, streamed on PBS NewsHour, and screened at various film festivals. Kazmi has launched and produced multiple digital series, including the award-winning immigrants’ stories series Borders & Heritage, currently streaming on She is the co-owner of an independent production company Kazbar Media. Kazmi grew up in Karachi, Bahrain, and Chicago, where she first learned about Fazlur Rahman Khan on a visit to the Sears Tower (now Willis Tower). The Fazlur Khan documentary is her first feature-length film.