John Portman, 1924-2017
1. January 2018
Atlanta's John C. Portman, Jr., pioneer of the modern atrium hotel, died on Friday, 29 December 2017 at the age of 93.
Portman was a rarity in the world of architecture: architect and developer. As described at jcp-legacy.com, "he pioneered the role of architect as developer in order to give himself more freedom in the implementation of his design concepts and to gain greater control of his projects’ destinies." Largest of these projects is the Peachtree Center complex, which began in 1961 with the Atlanta Merchandise Mart (now AmericasMart) and grew to encompass 14 blocks. Nearby is the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, which turned 50 in 2017; the 22-story hotel has a full-height atrium, the first of many atrium hotels created by Portman around the world.
Although the atria of the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, the Westin Bonaventure in Los Angeles, the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco, and the Marriott Marquis in New York are jaw-dropping spaces, they are highly introverted, turning their backs on their respective downtowns to focus their energies inward. As the New York Times describes in its obituary of Portman, "a rising chorus of critics derided his structures as islands of exclusion, paradoxically cut off from the downtowns they were intended to rescue." Most glaring of these is the Renaissance Center in Detroit, mentioned only briefly on the Portman Legacy website. The cluster of towers rising to a 73-story crescendo has enabled workers, shoppers, and other visitors to drive in and out of the complex without venturing beyond its confines into the rest of Downtown Detroit.
Having written, with Jonathan Barnett, The Architect as Developer in 1976, he ventured outside of the United States the following decade, realizing large mixed-use projects in Singapore, China, and Korea. To this day, John Portman & Associates has a strong Atlanta focus but is realizing projects in other US cities, as well as China and other Asian countries. Portman never retired, and reportedly worked six days a week well into his 80s, meaning he was involved in many of the projects on his namesake firm's drawing boards.