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John C. PORTMAN Jr.


1924 - 2017 Obituary Condolences Gallery
PORTMAN, Jr., John C. Sandy Springs resident, John C. Portman, Jr., died December 29, 2017 at the age of 93. Born in Walhalla, SC in 1924, he spent the majority of his life in metro Atlanta, where he became a world-renowned architect and developer. At the age of 15, John Portman convinced high school administrators to allow him to combine his college preparatory studies with the technical study of architecture, and consequently, began his lifelong love affair with architecture. During World War II, Portman served in the U.S. Navy and was awarded a fleet appointment to attend the U.S. Naval Academy. When the war ended prior to his attendance, he opted to return to Atlanta to pursue architecture. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Architecture from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1950, and after a three-year apprenticeship with the firm Stevens & Wilkinson, Portman opened his own firm in 1953. In 1956, he partnered with H. Griffith Edwards to form Edwards & Portman Architects. When Edwards retired in 1968, the firm became John Portman & Associates. Recognized throughout the world for his innovative design, Portman did not always follow traditional paths. Open to trying new concepts, he pioneered the role of architect as developer to allow greater freedom in the implementation of his design concepts. His keen business sense and entrepreneurial spirit enabled him to develop many profitable projects. His understanding of people and their response to space translated into enhanced environments and award-winning architecture that brought about positive socio-economic impact on the cities in which his projects were built a list that includes Atlanta, New York, San Francisco, Singapore, Detroit, Beijing, Shanghai, Los Angeles, Brussels and others. Portman's impact was perhaps greatest on his hometown of Atlanta, where the multi-block Peachtree Center complex attests to his commitment to the downtown business district and includes many of his landmark projects. Peachtree Center began in 1961 with the opening of the Atlanta Merchandise Mart. The Portman-owned-and-operated Mart has since grown to become AmericasMart, the world's largest contiguous wholesale marketplace. By stimulating trade and tourism, Portman provided the catalyst that established Atlanta as one of the nation's premiere convention cities. He designed and developed four downtown hotels, the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, The Westin Peachtree Plaza, the Atlanta Marriott Marquis and the Hotel Indigo Atlanta Downtown, that anchor the city's convention district. From the opening of the Hyatt Regency Atlanta in 1967, with its 22-story atrium, Portman made architectural history and won international acclaim. Offering the antithesis to the confining environment of once-typical urban hotels, guestroom floors rise around a soaring, sky-lit atrium with glass observation elevators providing an experiential journey up to a revolving rooftop restaurant. Portman's international work began with the design and development of the Brussels International Trade Mart in 1975, and then shifted to the Far East. The Regent Singapore was Portman's first international hotel, followed by Singapore's Marina Square, a complex with three hotels, a major retail mall and an office building. Portman was one of the first American architects to become actively involved when China opened its doors to the West. Portman's pioneer project, Shanghai Centre, a large, mixed-use complex that opened in 1980, has been described by China Daily as "one of the five architectural stars in mainland China." Portman's love of art is evident in all that he did. He supported the arts, he collected, and he, himself, was an accomplished painter and sculptor. The people of Atlanta will continue to enjoy his contributions, from the magnificent bronze lions by Olivier Strebelle that he commissioned for Peachtree Center Avenue, to Paul Manship's towering Ballet Olympia on Peachtree Street. Portman's own art played a prominent role in many of his projects such as the Hotel Indigo in downtown Atlanta, India's Park Hyatt Hyderabad, San Francisco's Embarcadero Center and the Hilton San Diego Bayfront in San Diego, among others. Portman was continually recognized for his social accomplishments and civic initiatives as well as for his architecture. In 1962, his restaurants within the Mart were among the first integrated restaurants in Atlanta. The Hyatt Regency Atlanta, when it opened in 1967, also served all. The Westin Peachtree Plaza was the first major facility in Atlanta to offer a kosher kitchen. The Georgia Institute of Technology, his alma mater, presented him their highest honor, the Exceptional Achievement Award in 1986. He was a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and a member of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. Harvard Graduate School of Design and the College of Design at Georgia Tech have both named chairs in his honor. John Portman transformed a two-man architectural practice into an international organization of companies that span the fields of architecture, real estate development and trade marts, but considered his family to be his greatest success. He was a devoted husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. He is survived by his beloved 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; nineteen grandchildren, five great-grandchildren, many nieces, nephews, cousins, and other relatives and loved ones. He was preceded in death by his parents John C. Portman, Sr. and Edna Rochester Portman; his siblings Mabel Portman Creel and Phyllis Portman Tippet; his son Jae Phillip Portman and Jae's wife Barbara Portman. A public service is planned for Friday, January 5, 2018 at 12:30 pm in the atrium of AmericasMart Building 3 at the corner of John Portman Boulevard (Historic Harris Street) and Ted Turner Drive (Historic Spring Street). Portman generously, and often anonymously, supported many important causes throughout his life. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions be made to the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, Office of Gift Records, Emory University, 1762 Clifton Rd. NE, Suite 1400, Atlanta, GA 30322. Condolences may be sent in care of Jana Portman Simmons, Portman Holdings, 303 Peachtree Center Avenue, NE, Suite 575, Atlanta, GA 30303.
Published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Dec. 31, 2017
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