ATLANTA—John C. Portman Jr., pioneering architect and founder of John Portman and Associates, passed away on Dec. 29, 2017. He was 93.
“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,” his namesake firm shared in a statement on the company’s website.
As an architect, entrepreneur and artist, Portman had a dramatic impact on Atlanta’s skyline and growth as a major international city, and he was instrumental in having similar impact on other cities throughout the world.
Portman is survived by his wife of 73 years, Joan Newton (Jan) Portman; his children Michael Wayne (Jody) Portman, John Calvin (Jack) Portman III, Jeffrey Lin Portman and his wife Lisa, Jana Lee Portman Simmons and her husband Jed, and Jarel Penn Portman and his wife Traylor; his siblings Glenda Portman Dodrill, Anne Portman Davis, Joy Portman Roberts and her husband Phil; 19 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
He was born in Walhalla, SC, on Dec. 4th, 1924, to John and Edna Portman. He was their only son among six children. Raised in Atlanta, he got an early start as an entrepreneur. He began selling magazines on the street corner and then created his own “franchise plan” for selling gum in front of Atlanta’s movie theaters. While working as an usher at one of those movie theaters, he first met Jan, who would become his wife.
In the mid-1950s, Portman was a young architect looking for design commissions when he heard that the government was vacating an office building. Using the creativity for which he became known, he developed a plan to convert the building into a wholesale furniture mart. Portman created a company to run the furniture mart business and launched what is now known as the AmericasMart, totaling over eight million sq. ft. of space.
Portman’s impact is visible in his hometown of Atlanta, where the 14-block Peachtree Center complex he designed and developed illustrates his commitment to the downtown business district and includes many of his landmark projects.
By stimulating trade and tourism, Portman served as the catalyst that established Atlanta as one of the nation’s premiere convention cities, according to the firm. His three major downtown hotels—the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, The Westin Peachtree Plaza, and the Atlanta Marriott Marquis—anchor the city’s convention district and garnered international acclaim.
By rethinking the typical urban hotel, Portman re-addressed the guest experience to create the antithesis of the confining environment of traditional city hotels, according to the firm. The Hyatt Regency Atlanta was constructed around a 22-story, sky-lit atrium with glass-cabbed elevators, providing an experiential journey through the atrium to a revolving rooftop restaurant.
Portman was also recognized for urban mixed-use complexes wherein his understanding of people and their response to space translated 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 created spaces that are open and uplifting to the human spirit, the firm noted.
Portman’s numerous architectural awards include the AIA Medal from the National American Institute of Architects in 1978 for innovations in hotel design, and the Silver Medal Award in 1981 from the Atlanta Chapter of AIA for innovative design. He was a fellow of the American Institute of Architects and a member of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. In addition, he was recognized for “extraordinary contributions to the advancement of tall buildings and the urban environment” with a lifetime achievement award from the Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.
Portman’s legacy businesses carry on. Architectural firm John Portman & Associates, real estate development firm Portman Holdings, AmericasMart and ADAC (Atlanta Decorative Arts Center) each continue under their current leadership.