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RE: Day care threatens shrine to skyscraper hero

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Poor all structural engineers; always fighting for respect.

I started at SOM as green, "wet behind the ears" kid from Purdue just a
couple years after he passed away, but from talking to engineers and
draftsmen there who knew him well, not only was he a genius, but one of the
finest human beings to ever walk the planet.

David L. Fisher SE PE
Fisher + partners
372 West Ontario
Chicago 60610
312.573.1726 fax
312.622.0409 mobile
-----Original Message-----
From: victorazzi(--nospam--at) [mailto:victorazzi(--nospam--at)] 
Sent: Friday, November 05, 2004 3:41 PM
To: seaint(--nospam--at)
Subject: Day care threatens shrine to skyscraper hero

This story was sent to you by: Dr. Victor Azzi

The structural engineering community should do even more of this ! !

Day care threatens shrine to skyscraper hero 

By Blair Kamin
Tribune architecture critic

November 5, 2004

It's the day-care center versus the plaque, real Tinker Toys versus a
tribute to the structural engineer who gave the Chicago skyline some of its
most distinctive, Tinker Toy-like buildings.

For now, the battle has come to a temporary halt after structural engineers,
a group that rarely makes passionate public expressions, argued passionately
that the day-care center was desecrating a memorial to one of their heroes,
the late Fazlur Khan, the engineering mastermind of Sears Tower and the John
Hancock Center.

City zoning officials on Thursday ordered a stop to the construction of the
day-care center in the atrium lobby of the Onterie Center, a 60-story
residential and office tower at 446-448 E. Ontario St., said Pete Scales, a
spokesman for the Department of Planning and Development.

The order came after the engineers, the building's original developer and
the Tribune alerted the city that the plaque to Khan, dedicated by former
Gov. James Thompson, was fast disappearing behind steel studs that form the
framework for the day-care center's walls.

"The bottom line is, the owner of the building should never have decided to
cover up the memorial. It's just not appropriate," Scales said.

The owner is Onterie Center LLP, which is controlled by Clark Realty Capital
of Bethesda, Md. A spokesman said the owners believed they were providing a
neighborhood amenity and regretted it if the construction upset people.

The day-care center is scheduled to open in January, and it will have enough
space for 112 children, age 6 weeks to 4 years, according to its future
director, Christie Nitka of KinderCare Learning Centers.

"There's an overwhelming demand in the city for infant care," she said. "The
atrium actually will be our indoor playground."

On Friday, Onterie Center's owners are scheduled to meet with the city's
zoning administrator and Ald. Burton Natarus (42nd), in whose ward the
building is located.

"We hope to reach some sort of solution, either changing the plans
altogether or at the very least asking them move the mural and the plaque to
another location," Scales said.

Khan, who was born in 1928 in what was then East Pakistan, was widely
acknowledged to be one of the world's leading structural engineers when he
died in 1982.

He worked on Onterie Center, as well as Sears Tower and the Hancock Center,
with architect Bruce Graham, his colleague at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill of

Both the Hancock and Onterie Center have distinctive X-shaped braces, which
resemble oversized Tinker Toys, though the Hancock's underlying structure is
steel and Onterie Center's is concrete.

The braces are the most visible part of the strong and rigid tubular frames
that Khan developed for the towers. These tubes, as they became known,
proved enormously influential, affecting skyscrapers around the globe.

In 1999, Engineering News-Record, a trade journal, named Khan one of its top
125 people of the last 125 years, a list that included such luminaries as
inventor Thomas Edison, architect Frank Lloyd Wright and structural engineer
Gustave Eiffel.

Khan, the magazine said, "combined technical genius with a sensitivity for
people and where they work."

After the 1986 opening of Onterie Center, Khan's final skyscraper, Thompson
dedicated a tile wall mural, designed by French-born artist Juan Gardy
Artigas, and a memorial plaque in the building's atrium to Khan.

The atrium, which formed the southern end of a passageway through the
building, became a kind of shrine for structural engineers.

"Many structural engineers from around the world have come to Chicago and
visited the building and viewed the memorial wall and mosaic plaque. To
desecrate this memorial is insulting and unconscionable," Deborah Zroka, the
president of the Structural Engineers Association of Illinois, wrote in a
letter Tuesday to Stan Kaderbek, Chicago's buildings commissioner.

The Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, which
monitors skyscraper construction worldwide, also is protesting the covering
of the tribute to Khan.

"It would be a tragedy if [the memorial wall and plaque] were lost from
public access," the group's chairman, Ron Klemencic, wrote in a letter
Thursday to Mayor Richard Daley.

Onterie Center's original owner and developer, Chandra Jha, discovered the
construction of the day-care center last week while taking a walk in the
Streeterville neighborhood. He works two blocks to the west of Onterie

In an Oct. 28 letter to the Chicago Plan Commission, he said the
construction of the day-care center would not only dishonor Khan's memory
but also "be an insult to the Asian-American community's pride" because Khan
was Asian-American.

Officials in the Planning Department in July gave Onterie Center's present
owners approval to build the day-care center, Scales said.

The owners' application "did not mention that the alterations were going to
cover the memorial and the plaque," he said. Jha argues that city officials
also should not have allowed the owners to close off the atrium from public

Scales replied: "We want to keep as many of these private through spaces
open as possible. But unless they're specified in [planning documents], it's
difficult to stop someone from altering their own space."

Copyright (c) 2004, Chicago Tribune

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