Architect John Portman, Who Redefined U.S. Skylines, Dies at 93

John Portman, the architect and developer who revolutionized hotel designs with soaring futuristic atriums, built commercial towers that revitalized the downtowns of decaying postwar U.S. cities and transformed Asian skylines from Shanghai to Mumbai, died Friday in Atlanta. He was 93. Portman's family announced his death. No cause was given. One of the world's best-known and most influential architects, Portman, over a half-century, redefined urban landscapes in the United States. He built the Peachtree Center in Atlanta, the Embarcadero Center in San Francisco, the Renaissance Center in Detroit and scores of hotel, office and retail complexes in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Fort Worth, San Diego and other cities. His buildings often evoked oohs and aahs from the public, but were not always a hit with critics, who called them concrete islands, self-contained cities within cities — serving their patrons yet insular, even forbidding to outsiders. But by combining architectural talents with the savvy of a real estate entrepreneur, Portman was hugely successful and a rarity among contemporaries: both an artist and a tough businessman. In the 1960s and '70s, his signature hotels — skyscrapers with escarpment atriums, cantilevered balconies overlooking interiors big enough to contain the Statue of Liberty, whooshing glass elevators, waterfalls, hanging gardens and revolving rooftop restaurants — offered thrilling antidotes to the standard lot of dreary hotel lobbies, claustrophobic box elevators and shotgun corridors lined with cells for the inmates. An Atlanta maverick who defied architects' ethics codes by plunging into real estate development, Portman, who had no money to start with, made and lost millions cofinancing many of his own projects. From the 1980s on he designed and built hotels, retail marts and office towers in China, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and India — and more complexes in Europe, the Middle East and the United States. As federal support for urban renewal faded in the 1970s, Portman's commercial towers were hailed as downtown saviors, bringing back tourists and suburban shoppers, renewing economies and crumbling landscapes. But some failed, and a rising chorus of critics derided his structures as islands of exclusion, paradoxically cut off from the downtowns they were intended to rescue. Portman said his own buildings, especially hotels, were oases within cities, designed to enhance the experiences of people who used them. "Anyone can build a building and put rooms in it," he told The Times in 2011. "But we should put human beings at the head of our thought processes. You want to hopefully spark their enthusiasm. Like riding in a glass elevator: Everyone talks on a glass elevator. You get on a closed-in elevator, everyone looks down at their shoes. A glass elevator lets people's spirits expand. Architecture should be a symphony." John Calvin Portman Jr. was born in Walhalla, South Carolina, on Dec. 4, 1924, to John Calvin and Edna Rochester Portman. His father was a government worker, his mother a beautician. He grew up in Atlanta. In 1944, John Portman married Joan Newton. They had six children. Besides his wife, he is survived by four sons, Michael, John C. III, Jeffrey and Jarel; a daughter, Jana Simmons; three sisters, Glenda Dodrill, Anne Davis and Joy Roberts; 19 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by a son, Jae, and two sisters, Mabel Creel and Phyllis Tippet. From The New York TimesPosted by Breaking News editor Matt Peterson  Continue reading...

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