American architect and atrium aficionado John C Portman Jr dies aged 93

Atlanta-based architect and developer John C Portman Jr, renowned for his buildings designed around vast atria, has died aged 93.

Portman’s architecture firm made the announcement the day after his death on 29 December 2017, which was followed by a string of tributes from the international architecture community.

The architect’s best-known projects include hotels like the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, and Hyatt Regency branches in Atlanta and San Francisco – each laid out around soaring internal atria.

GM Renaissance Center Detroit by John Portman
John C Portman Jr’s notable buildings include the GM Renaissance Center in Detroit

He also designed the Renaissance Center in Detroit, which comprises interconnected skyscrapers that stand prominent on the city’s skyline, and included the tallest hotel in the western hemisphere until it was surpassed in 2013.

Stairs by John Portman
Portman designed many hotels across the US, including the Hyatt Regency Atlanta. Photograph by Michael Portman

Portman was also a prolific developer, and made great efforts to save the downtown areas of his home city and other American metropoles during the so-called “white exodus” to the suburbs in the second half of the 20th century.

Atlanta skyline for John Portman
His contribution to the skyline of Atlanta included the multi-block Peachtree Center. Photograph by Kinka Wong

This resulted in the 14-block Peachtree Center in Atlanta, where he designed and built a series of towers connected by sky bridges to create a bustling business district. Completed in 1965, the centre is still home to John Portman & Associates, which also has an office in Shanghai.

The firm’s work in Asia includes the multi-tower Beijing Yintai Centre, Shanghai Centre, and Tomorrow Square also in Shanghai.

John Portman
Portman also designed several projects in Asia, including the Beijing Yintai Centre. Photograph by Beijing Yintai Property Co

Portman was born in 1924 in Walhalla, South Carolina, but grew up in Atlanta. After graduating with an architecture degree from Georgia Tech university in 1950, one of his first contributions to the city was to transform form an old parking garage into a furniture mart.

American Cancer Society Center Atlanta by John Portman
Portman’s other buildings in his home city of Atlanta included the American Cancer Society Center

Originally called the Merchandise Mart and now known at the AmericasMart, the building includes eight million square feet (743,000 square metres) of space, and will host a memorial service for the architect on Friday 5 January 2018.

American Cancer Society Center Atlanta by John Portman
Similar to Portman’s hotel designs, the American Cancer Society Center was designed around a vast atrium. Photograph by Matthew Lee

Those that have paid tribute to Portman on social media include BIG partner Kai-Uwe Bergmann, who thanked Portman for “bringing spatial awe to my Atlanta youth and thus paving the way for my own architectural adventure”.

Photography is courtesy of The Portman Archives, unless noted otherwise.

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