Recognized throughout the world for his innovative design, John Portman did not always follow traditional paths. Always eager to try new concepts, early in his career he pioneered the role of architect as developer to allow more freedom in implementation of his design concepts. His keen business sense and entrepreneurial spirit enabled him to develop many profitable projects.
His impact is greatest on his hometown of Atlanta where today the 14-block Peachtree Center complex attests to his commitment to the downtown business district and includes many of his landmark projects. Peachtree Center began in 1960 with the opening of the Atlanta Merchandise Mart. The Mart has since grown to become AmericasMart, the world’s largest single wholesale marketplace. By stimulating trade and tourism, Portman was the catalyst that established Atlanta as one of the nation’s premiere convention cities. His three major downtown hotels, the Hyatt Regency, Westin Peachtree Plaza, and Marriott Marquis, anchor the convention district. From the opening of the Hyatt Regency in 1967, with its 22-story atrium, Portman made architectural history and won international acclaim. Paul Goldberger of The New York Times wrote “He (Portman) is the only architect of his era to create not only a series of significant buildings, but a new urban type.” Paul Gapp of The Chicago Tribune wrote at the time, “The most influential living American architect is John Calvin Portman, Jr.” further adding “Countless other architects have copied him but the music just isn’t the same.”
Portman was best known for his urban mixed-use complexes wherein his understanding of people and their response to space translates into enhanced environments and award-winning architecture. From Embarcadero Center in San Francisco and Times Square in New York to Marina Square in Singapore and Shanghai Centre in China, he has taken people away from the congestion of urban life to create spaces that are open and uplifting to the human spirit. Since his first project in 1953 where he personally made his first sculpture commission, he was committed to incorporating art in all his projects, thereby making art an integral part of their success. The people of Atlanta continue to enjoy his contributions to the arts, from the magnificent bronze lions by Olivier Strebelle he commissioned for Peachtree Center Avenue to Paul Manship’s towering Ballet Olympia on Peachtree Street.
His love of art is evident in all that he did. He supported the arts, he collected, and he, himself, was a painter and sculptor. The High Museum of Art Atlanta exhibit, John Portman: Art & Architecture (October 2009 – April 2010), currently on tour throughout the world, includes approximately fifty-five works of art created by Portman since 1981, most of which have never been exhibited in public. In 1997, he was inducted as an Academician of the National Academy - Museum and School of Fine Arts in New York. In 1996, the Angel Orensanz Foundation elected him Member of the Senate of the Accademia Internazionale d’Arte Moderna. He served as a board member of the Atlanta College of Art, and was Trustee Emeritus of the Atlanta Arts Alliance. He also served as a Director of the Atlanta High Museum of Art. The Georgia Institute of Technology, his alma mater, presented him their highest honor, the Exceptional Achievement Award in 1986 and then, in 2014, named the endowed Dean’s chair at the College of Architecture after him. Harvard Graduate School of Design also has a chair named for him. His numerous architectural awards include a lifetime achievement award from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat in 2009, the Silver Medal Award in 1981 from the AIA Atlanta Chapter for innovative design, and AIA Medal in 1978 from the National American Institute of Architects for innovations in hotel design.
Mr. Portman’s work has been featured in six major books. Additionally, the 2011 documentary, John Portman, A Life of Building, by Ben Loeterman, captures Portman’s approach to architecture, art and life.
We are saddened by the passing of our founder, John C. Portman, Jr. at the age of 93. A pioneering architect, entrepreneur, artist and philanthropist, Mr. Portman changed the skylines of cities around the world and impacted the lives of many in Atlanta and abroad. While our hearts are heavy, we are honored to continue in his legacy and memory. To learn more about Mr. Portman and his incredible work and impact, please visit our website www.jcp-legacy.com.