John Portman (b. 1924)
John Calvin Portman Jr. was born to Edna and John Portman on December 4, 1924, in Walhalla, South Carolina. He grew up in Atlanta and served in the navy during World War II (1941-45) before graduating in 1950 with a degree in architecture from the Georgia Institute of Technology. In 1953 Portman opened an architectural firm in Atlanta, known today as John Portman and Associates. The firm is part of the Portman Family of Companies, which also includes Portman Holdings, a real-estate development company, and AmericasMart, a home decor wholesaler.
Portman designed numerous buildings in Atlanta, including office complexes and hotels, that were intended to revitalize the city's downtown area. His Peachtree Center Office Building (1965) in Atlanta established a model for multipurpose complexes globally, and his famous Hyatt Regency Hotel (1967),
Peachtree Center, which functions as a city within a city, has revived and virtually redefined the modern-day agora and convention center. The center continued to develop in subsequent decades with the additions of office towers, hotels, public retail space, and wholesale market centers. Most notable among these additions are the Apparel Mart (1979, 1992), a concrete fashion showroom, and Inforum (1989), a glass technology mart joined by sky bridges. Adherents of the New Urbanist school criticized these structures as insular environments that lacked integration with the city. Such criticism marks a certain irony in Portman's career, since he was early praised for carving urban spaces from a decaying downtown and for stimulating and guiding the rejuvenation of Atlanta's center.
In addition to his work in Atlanta, Portman's other significant designs include buildings in several major U.S. cities, such as the Embarcadero Center in San Francisco, California (1971-76, 1988); the Renaissance Center in Detroit, Michigan (1977); and the Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles, California (1977). These projects were followed by Marina Square (1987) in Singapore and Shanghai Centre (1990) in China, both of which established Portman's international reputation.
Within Georgia, Portman's most famous building outside Atlanta is his beach house, Entelechy II (1986), on Sea Island. The beach house was built as a studio and weekend retreat for Portman, who had become increasingly interested in painting, sculpture, and furniture design. The nearly 22,000-square-foot concrete beach house also became a museum for Portman's art collection. Many pieces in the collection are of his own making and include canvases, which are mostly abstract expressionist in character; sculptures, inspired by Matisse, Dubuffet, and others; and furniture. Oriental and archaic themes appear in his paintings as well as in his sculptures.
Portman continued to work and design throughout the 1990s, and in 2000 he saw the opening of SunTrust Plaza Garden Offices. As of 2007 SunTrust Plaza was Atlanta's second-tallest building, after the Bank of America Plaza.
Temme Barkin-Leeds, John Portman: A Retrospective Exhibition, exhibition catalog (Atlanta: Sun Trust Bank, 1999).
Jonathan Barnett, "John Portman: Atlanta's One Man Urban Renewal Program," Architectural Record 139 (January 1966): 133-40.
Robert M. Craig, "Making Modern Architecture Palatable in Atlanta: POPular Modern Architecture from Deco to Portman to Deco Revival," Journal of American Culture 11, no. 3 (1988): 19-33.
Robert M. Craig, "Mythic Proportions: The Portman Home," Southern Homes, January/February 1989, 90-99.
Paul Goldberger, "Architecture: John C. Portman Jr.," Architectural Digest, December 1987, 98-111.
John Portman and Jonathan Barnett, The Architect as Developer (New York: McGraw Hill, 1976).
John Portman, Robert M. Craig, and Aldo Castellano, John Portman: An Island on an Island (Milan, Italy: L'Arcaedizioni, 1997).
Paolo Riani, Paul Goldberger, and John Portman, John Portman (Washington, D.C.: American Institute of Architects Press; Milan, Italy: L'Arcaedizioni, 1990).
Robert M. Craig, Georgia Institute of Technology
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.