'Portman's America' A Portrait Of The Visionary Who Shaped Atlanta, Redefined Architecture

Feb 19, 2019

Without Atlanta legend John Portman, you might never walk into a hotel lobby with a cavernous atrium, an office tower with stacked balconies or a shopping center with transparent elevators whizzing up and down.

Portman revolutionized architecture, turning buildings inward to jaw-dropping effect. To quote his close friend, Ambassador Andrew Young, "Everybody became a country bumpkin when they walked into the Hyatt. You had to say, 'Oh my god, what is this?'"

Highly influential and often imitated, Portman was also a developer.

His Peachtree Center, Marriott Marquis, Hyatt Regencythe first fully integrated hotel in Atlanta – and other mega-structures brought new life to the city's crumbling urban center in the 1960s. Soon after, he took his designs to San Francisco, where he created the Embarcadero Center; New York, with another Marriott Marquis on Times Square; and Detroit, where he built what was, until recently, the Western Hemisphere's tallest hotel in the Renaissance Center.

Portman, who died in December 2017 at the age of 93, and his imprint on cityscapes around the world are the subject of "Portman's America: & Other Speculations." We spoke with "Portman's America" editor Mohsen Mostafavi, who is also dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, about the architect and his legacy.