An architect at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill from 1951 to 1989, Graham is credited with asserting the architectural superiority of the nation’s third most-populous city.
His work is considered a driving force in developing Chicago as a modern architectural center, building on the late 19th century legacy of American architects Daniel Burnham and Louis Sullivan, who were responsible for “The Plan of Chicago” and part of The Prairie School movement, respectively.
Graham was responsible for the 100-story Hancock Center, completed in 1970, and the 110-story Sears Tower — it’s now called the Willis Tower — which was the world’s tallest building when it was completed in 1974.
More signature work in Chicago included:
- Three First National Plaza, completed in 1981;
- Madison Plaza, in 1982;
- One Magnificent Mile, in 1983;
- Quaker Tower, in 1987;
- and McCormick Place North, in 1986.
Graham was involved in drafting the ambitious Chicago 21 urban renewal plan in 1973, which called for transforming Navy Pier into a recreation area and altering Lake Shore Drive to better accommodate the city’s Museum Campus.
Graham also designed buildings in Hong Kong, Cairo, Barcelona, Seoul and in other U.S. states. He also led the team that drafted the master plan for Canary Wharf in London’s Docklands district.
Graham was known for his engineering eye, and along with structural engineer Fazlur Khan, often tried to maximize interior space for minimal cost, according to the New York Times.
The signature X braces and exterior columns of the Hancock Building, like the exterior stainless-steel columns of the Inland Steel Building, freed up interior space and lowered costs. The Sears Tower, renamed the Willis Tower in 2009, consists of nine mutually supporting square tubes, staggered in height, allowing two towers to rise the final 20 stories of the 110-story building.
The rest, of course, is history.