Tube Structural Systems in High-Rise Construction

In the awe-inspiring realm of high-rise construction, the structural systems that support towering skyscrapers play a pivotal role in ensuring stability and resilience against lateral forces such as wind and seismic activities. Among the myriad of architectural marvels, the tubular structural system emerges as a groundbreaking solution, transforming buildings into intricate yet robust configurations that defy conventional design norms. This comprehensive exploration examines the intricacies of tubular structural systems, unraveling their evolution, features, and diverse types. From the visionary mind of Fazlur Rahman Khan to the iconic Willis Tower in Chicago, this educational journey aims to provide a profound understanding of the principles and applications of tubular structural systems.

The Genesis: Fazlur Rahman Khan and the DeWitt Chestnut Apartment Building

To comprehend the essence of tubular structural systems, it is imperative to trace their roots back to the visionary structural designer Fazlur Rahman Khan. In 1960, Khan conceptualized and introduced the tubular design paradigm, revolutionizing the landscape of high-rise construction. His pioneering work culminated in the construction of the DeWitt Chestnut Apartment Building in Chicago in 1963, marking the first manifestation of the tubular structural system.

The DeWitt Chestnut Apartment Building stands as a testament to Khan’s ingenuity, showcasing the transformative potential of tubular design in mitigating lateral forces and establishing a new era in structural engineering.

Features of Tubular Structural Systems

Evolution from Rigid Frame Systems

The evolution of tubular structural systems is rooted in the concept of the rigid frame system, a three-dimensional framework capable of withstanding all lateral loads. The tubular system refines this concept by introducing an internal core arrangement surrounded by closely spaced exterior columns. This amalgamation forms a rigid frame that creates a robust structural wall along the building’s exterior. This evolution enables the interior of the building to efficiently bear gravity loads, optimizing the overall structural performance.

Core and Perimeter Integration

A hallmark feature of tubular structural systems lies in the seamless integration of core and perimeter elements. The core frame, often housing essential building components such as elevators and stairs, collaborates with perimeter frames through beams or trusses. This integration facilitates the effective transfer of gravity loads within the structure, maximizing the efficiency of the perimeter tube in resisting overturning moments induced by lateral forces.

Types of Tubular Structural Systems

1. Framed Tube Structural System

Khan’s earliest contribution to tubular design, the framed tube structural system, represents a versatile solution applicable to various floor plan shapes, including square, circular, rectangular, and freeform. This system features closely spaced exterior columns rigidly connected with deep spandrel beams. The arrangement enhances beam and column stiffness by reducing clear span dimensions and increasing member depth. Ideal for buildings with heights ranging from 38 to 300 meters, the framed tube system showcases efficiency and adaptability.

2. Trussed Tube Structural System

Diverging from the framed tube system, the trussed tube structural system boasts fewer exterior columns spaced at wider intervals. These columns are interconnected using steel bracing or concrete shear walls, forming a rigid box capable of resisting lateral shear through axial force rather than bending. The strategic column spacing in the trussed tube system allows for the incorporation of ample window spaces, introducing an element of architectural aesthetics.

3. Tube-in-Tube Structural System

The tube-in-tube structural system, also known as the “hull and core” arrangement, introduces a core tube enveloped by an exterior tube. The core tube accommodates critical building elements such as lifts and stairs, while the exterior tube shoulders the majority of gravity and lateral loads. This symbiotic relationship between the inner and outer tubes, operating horizontally as shear and flexural components, enhances the system’s structural integrity and functional efficiency.

4. Bundled Tube Structural System

In the bundled tube structural system, multiple interconnected tubes collaborate to form a multi-cellular tube. This collective arrangement resists lateral loads and overturning moments, showcasing both economic viability and design versatility. The tube-in-tube structural design, exemplified by the Willis Tower in Chicago, exemplifies the potential of this system to create captivating and innovative building shapes.

5. Hybrid Tube Structural System

In scenarios where a building’s design necessitates a harmonious blend of strength and stiffness, the hybrid tube structural system emerges as a pragmatic solution. This approach involves the amalgamation of two or more structural forms in different sections of the structure, catering to the complexities of modern architectural designs. The hybrid tube system exemplifies adaptability, offering a sophisticated response to diverse structural challenges.

Applications and Case Studies

Tubular Structural Systems in Contemporary Architecture

The application of tubular structural systems extends far beyond mere engineering solutions; it defines the aesthetic and functional aspects of contemporary architecture. Buildings worldwide showcase the versatility of tubular designs, seamlessly integrating strength, stability, and visual appeal. Notable examples include the John Hancock Center in Chicago, the Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai, and the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. These architectural marvels stand as testaments to the enduring legacy of tubular structural systems in shaping skylines and pushing the boundaries of what is architecturally achievable.

Sustainable Practices in Tubular Structural Systems

The sustainability of tubular structural systems is a crucial consideration in the era of environmentally conscious construction. The inherent efficiency of these systems in resisting lateral forces translates into reduced material usage and optimized structural performance. Additionally, the integration of innovative materials and construction techniques further enhances the sustainability quotient of tubular designs. Exploring the environmental implications and long-term benefits of tubular structural systems contributes to a holistic understanding of their role in fostering sustainable urban development.

Future Prospects and Innovations

As technology advances and architectural aspirations reach new heights, the future of tubular structural systems holds exciting possibilities. Innovations in materials, construction methodologies, and design approaches continue to redefine the capabilities of these systems. Advancements in parametric design, artificial intelligence, and sustainable practices contribute to a landscape where tubular structures not only meet the demands of the present but also pave the way for a resilient and aesthetically captivating future.


In the vast tapestry of high-rise construction, tubular structural systems stand out as a testament to human ingenuity and engineering excellence. From the foundational contributions of Fazlur Rahman Khan to the diverse typologies encompassed by framed, trussed, tube-in-tube, bundled, and hybrid systems, this educational exploration seeks to unravel the complexities and nuances of tubular design. As we reflect on iconic structures like the Willis Tower and ponder the sustainable implications of tubular systems, it becomes evident that these architectural marvels transcend mere functionality; they embody the intersection of art and engineering, shaping the skylines of our cities and inspiring generations to come.

Scroll to Top