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‘Neofuturist’ architect John Portman dies aged 93

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US architectural icon John Portman, famous for his huge, futuristic hotel lobbies, has died, aged 93

Portman, born in Walhalla, South Carolina, in December 1924, died on 29 December.

He is perhaps best known for the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, completed in 1967, and particularly for its 22-storey atrium.

Portman went on to design two other major hotels in the heart of the city: the Westin Peachtree Plaza and the Atlanta Marriott Marquis. Other of his US projects include the Embarcadero Center in San Francisco and the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles.

In Asia, Portman designed the Shanghai Centre and Singapore’s Marina Square, among other schemes.

A statement from John Portman & Associates said: ‘We are saddened to announce the passing of our founder, John C Portman Jr, at the age of 93.

‘A pioneering architect, entrepreneur, artist and philanthropist, Portman changed the skylines of cities around the world and impacted the lives of many in Atlanta and abroad.’

A website dedicated to his life and works said Portman ‘pioneered the role of architect as developer’.

It added: ‘His keen business sense and entrepreneurial spirit combined with his incredible design abilities and determined self-confidence enabled him to develop many profitable projects.’

Michael Portman's render of the atrium of the Hyatt Regency Atlanta with Richard Lippold's sculpture Flora Raris

Michael Portman’s render of the atrium of the Hyatt Regency Atlanta with Richard Lippold’s sculpture Flora Raris

Source: Michael Portman

Michael Portman’s render of the atrium of the Hyatt Regency Atlanta with Richard Lippold’s sculpture Flora Raris

Excerpt from the Reputations series in The Architectural Review, September 2017, by Paul Davies

Portman lo res

Portman lo res

Early on, hoteliers weren’t convinced by these atria; a double-loaded hotel corridor is more efficient in housekeeping terms and there are certain qualms regarding guests throwing themselves off into your crab salad. Conrad Hilton declared the Hyatt Regency Atlanta a ‘concrete monster that wouldn’t fly’. But Portman was convincing; these being the fresh interpretations of ‘town squares’ the like of which nobody had seen before, with their twinkling panoramic lifts and swooping gestures; their extraordinary art pieces (sometimes by Portman himself), space-age lounges, rooftop revolving restaurants and shopping arcades. Moreover the idea was catching.

The last time I was in a ‘Portman’ hotel (the Hyatt Regency in Houston) it turned out to be a doppelgänger. In attempting to navigate that 29-storey, shades of Logan’s Run atrium – Portman often gets tagged ‘neofuturist’ – I was confronted by a gaggle of drunken young ladies dressed up as Snow White. I left the premises approximately twice. When you found the bar in those Hyatts, you stayed there; either too scared or too gobsmacked to do otherwise.

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