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Bruce Graham

Bruce Graham

American architect
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro American architect
A.K.A. Bruce J. Graham, Bruce John Graham
Countries United States of America Colombia
Occupations Architect
Gender male
Birth 1 December 1925 (La Cumbre( la montaña), Valle del Cauca)
Death 6 March 2010 (Hobe Sound)
Star sign Sagittarius
Education University of Pennsylvania School of Design, Case Western Reserve University
Bruce Graham
The details

Bruce John Graham (December 1, 1925 – March 6, 2010) was a Colombian-American architect. Among his most notable buildings are the Inland Steel Building, the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower), and the John Hancock Center. He worked with Fazlur Khan on all three constructions.

He was also responsible for planning the Broadgate and Canary Wharf developments in London.

Architectural historian Franz Schulze called him "the Burnham of his generation." He was a 1993 Pew Fellow.


Born on December 1, 1925 in La Cumbre, Valle del Cauca, Colombia, Graham was the son of a Canadian-born father who was an international banker, and a Peruvian mother. His first language was Spanish.

He attended Colegio San Jose de Rio Piedras in Puerto Rico, and graduated in 1944. He studied at the University of Dayton, Ohio, and at the Case School of Applied Sciences in Cleveland, Ohio. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1948 with a degree in architecture. When he first came to Chicago, he worked for Holabird and Root and joined the Chicago office Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, the largest architectural firm in the United States in 1951.


During his 40-year tenure at SOM, Bruce Graham designed notable buildings all over the world from his home in Chicago, to Guatemala, Hong Kong, London, Cairo, and many other cities. With Fazlur Khan he designed the Willis Tower, tallest building in the world for nearly 36 years, the 100 story tall John Hancock Center, One Shell Plaza etc.

He was extremely involved with the University of Pennsylvania, especially the School of Fine Arts. He believed that teachers of architecture should be currently involved in its practice. He was committed to the study of architectural theory and started the SOM Foundation. He also taught an architectural studio at Harvard. Graham was a great collector of art. He befriended Alexander Calder, Joan Miró, Chryssa and Chillida, among others. He invited these artists to create public works of art for the city of Chicago. He believed that to create great work an architect should be informed by philosophy, history, music and literature.

Design philosophy

Graham was highly influenced by Fazlur Khan's design philosophy of Structural art. Khan said, "A building’s natural strength should be expressed." Khan did not believe a building should be covered with granite slabs, or aluminum sheets. John Hancock Center's distinctive diagonally braced tube is an example. The building uses structural design for esthetic expression. Graham later expressed this in Hotel Arts in Barcelona and many other buildings. To Khan, 'for architectural design to reach its highest levels it had to be grounded in structural realities'. Bruce Graham firmly believed in this.

England projects

Graham left a major influence on London, where he was responsible for designing the master plans for the massive Broadgate and Canary Wharf developments. He also designed nine buildings in London.

Graham said, "We design our buildings for the inhabitants and for those who see them from the street. We try to design buildings that are a part of London, not in an imitation of period styles but an invention."

Major works

  • 1958 - Inland Steel Building, Chicago, Illinois, USA
  • 1970 - John Hancock Center, Chicago, Illinois, USA
  • 1973 - Sears Tower (renamed Willis Tower), Wacker Drive, Chicago, USA
  • 1973 - First Wisconsin Plaza, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
  • 1982 - Broadgate, London, England
  • 1988 - Canary Wharf, London, England
  • 1992 - Hotel Arts, Barcelona, Spain


Graham died March 6, 2010 at the age of 84 in Hobe Sound, Florida. The cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease, said his son, George. Graham was buried at Graceland Cemetery next to Fazlur Khan.

On October 14, 2010, Chicago Alderman Brendan Reilly, 42nd Ward, dedicated the streets to the south and east sides of the John Hancock Center – one of Graham’s most iconic achievements – as Honorary Bruce J. Graham Way. It runs along Chestnut Street between Mies van der Rohe Street and Michigan Avenue and along Mies van der Rohe Street – named after famed architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe - between Chestnut and Delaware Streets.

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