John Portman, Architect Who Made Skylines Soar, Dies at 93

There have been setbacks for the atrium idea. The 40-story Hyatt Regency Kansas City, designed by three native architects with an atrium imitating Mr. Portman’s, was the scene of a collapse of two aerial walkways in 1981 throughout a dance competitors within the foyer. The collapse killed 114 folks and injured 216 others in one of many nation’s deadliest structural failures.

By the late 1980s, with atriums within the Westin Bonaventure in Los Angeles, the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco, the Marriott Marquis in New York and dozens of others, the design was so frequent that some motels had what handed for atriums. Travelers have been now not impressed, and critics stated Mr. Portman had repeated himself too typically.

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Mr. Portman in his Atlanta workplace in 2011. “Anyone can build a building and put rooms in it,” he stated. “But we should put human beings at the head of our thought processes. You want to hopefully spark their enthusiasm.”

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T. Lynne Pixley for The New York Times

But his atriums have been laced into common tradition. In the 1977 movie “High Anxiety,” Mel Brooks, as an acrophobic psychiatrist dealing with a sheer drop at the San Francisco Hyatt, inches to his room clinging to the partitions. And in a 1993 movie, “In the Line of Fire,” Clint Eastwood’s Secret Service agent outlasts a would-be presidential murderer in a glass elevator at the Los Angeles Bonaventure.

As federal assist for city renewal light within the 1970s, Mr. Portman’s business towers have been hailed as downtown saviors, bringing again vacationers and suburban buyers, renewing economies and crumbling landscapes. But some failed, and a rising refrain of critics derided his buildings as islands of exclusion, paradoxically minimize off from the downtowns they have been supposed to rescue.

His Renaissance Center in Detroit was a obtrusive instance. A cluster of 4 39-story workplace buildings and a 73-story lodge with outlets, eating places and theaters was constructed within the 1970s to save lots of a depressed metropolis. But its gleaming towers on the Detroit River have been as distant as a cloud-ringed Disneyland citadel. Office employees, guests and suburban buyers might drive out and in with out ever setting foot downtown.

Mr. Portman’s Marriott Marquis Hotel, which opened in a still-seedy Times Square in New York in 1985 with a 45-story atrium and an eighth-floor foyer, was “a cold, grim place,” wrote Paul Goldberger, then The New York Times’s structure critic. “Like so much of Mr. Portman’s architecture, the hotel is turned almost completely inward; the architect seems interested in urban activity only insofar as it can be canned and packaged within its walls. To the rest of New York, this building turns a harsh concrete wall.”

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The atrium of the Shandong Hotel in Jinan, China, a Portman venture.

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Yi Zeng/John Portman & Associates

Mr. Portman scoffed, arguing that open areas in congested cities relieved anxieties. Influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, who harmonized buildings with folks and environment, Mr. Portman stated his personal buildings, particularly resorts, have been oases inside cities, designed to reinforce the experiences of the individuals who used them.

“Anyone can build a building and put rooms in it,” he informed 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.”

Colleagues stated Mr. Portman, like his buildings, was proudly self-contained. Tall, soft-spoken, with a delicate smile and wavy hair, he labored incessantly, was not given to small discuss and by no means shed his slight air of Old South formality.

In a occupation that regarded structure and actual property improvement as a battle of curiosity, he aggressively pursued each, designing buildings whereas his agency purchased property and organized financing and building for tasks that required companions and tens of millions of from lenders. At first, no lodge chain would contact his concepts. Even in Atlanta, few accepted his imaginative and prescient of a redeemable downtown.

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The Marriott Marquis in Times Square. One critic referred to as it a “cold, grim place” and wrote that “to the rest of New York, this building turns a harsh concrete wall.”

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Robert Caplin for The New York Times

But the Peachtree Center in Atlanta was a spectacular success: 14 blocks of workplace towers, resorts and purchasing arcades opened in 1961 with the Merchandise Mart, a wholesale advanced that lured hordes of consumers. The Hyatt Regency was in-built 1967 to accommodate them. It made Mr. Portman well-known, revolutionized lodge building and spurred Peachtree to completion. It was a key to the downtown renaissance and adjusted Atlanta’s view of itself.

“Portman saw his mission as making the city safe for the middle class,” Mr. Goldberger wrote in 1996, “and he did so almost too well, for he filled Atlanta with buildings that brought a kind of suburban mall mentality to the center of downtown.”

John Calvin Portman Jr. was born in Walhalla, S.C., on Dec. four, 1924, to John Calvin and Edna Rochester Portman. His father was a authorities employee, his mom a beautician. He grew up in Atlanta, the place he performed soccer and graduated in 1943 from Tech High School.

In 1944, Mr. Portman married Joan Newton. They had six youngsters. Besides his spouse, he’s survived by 4 sons, Michael, John C. III, Jeffrey and Jarel; a daughter, Jana Simmons; three sisters, Glenda Dodrill, Anne Davis and Joy Roberts; 19 grandchildren; and 5 great-grandchildren. He was preceded in loss of life by a son, Jae, and two sisters, Mabel Creel and Phyllis Tippet.

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The high of the Hyatt Regency lodge in Atlanta, designed by Mr. Portman.

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Erik S. Lesser for The New York Times

Mr. Portman attended the United States Naval Academy in 1944 and 1945, then transferred to the Georgia Institute of Technology, the place he earned a level in structure in 1950. After an apprenticeship with an Atlanta architect, he opened his personal follow in 1953. He struggled at first, designing drugstores and YMCAs.

A rising respect for the exhausting financial realities of structure prompted Mr. Portman’s first enterprise into actual property, financing a small medical constructing he designed. The deal fell via, however Mr. Portman was satisfied that improvement was the important thing to success in structure.

In 1956, he and H. Griffith Edwards, a former Georgia Tech professor, grew to become companions. Mr. Portman designed buildings and Mr. Edwards, 20 years older, managed building till he retired in 1968. They took joint credit score for a lot of tasks, together with the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, Mr. Portman’s inventive genesis.

In the 1980s, Mr. Portman developed properties in Shanghai, Singapore and South Korea. By the tip of the last decade, with capital drying up and regulators tightening lending necessities, his empire was $2 billion in debt. He surrendered a controlling curiosity within the Peachtree Center, the keystone of his holdings.

But in 1991, the lenders let him retain most of his properties and offered tens of millions of in new capital in trade for eight p.c of Mr. Portman’s belongings. He was quickly on his ft once more, finishing the large, multiuse Shanghai Centre and properties in Beijing; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and Mumbai, India.

Mr. Portman not often attended public occasions, although he accepted many awards in particular person and gave events for a whole lot. He painted abstracts, created sculptures and designed furnishings at a seashore home he constructed on Sea Island, Ga. He co-wrote a number of books, together with “The Architect as Developer” (1976, with Jonathan Barnett), and was the main target of a 2011 documentary by Ben Loeterman, “John Portman: A Life of Building.”

At 86, he was nonetheless operating John Portman & Associates. “A fish got to swim and a bird got to fly,” he informed The Times in his Southern Comfort drawl. “I’m here six days a week, and it’d be seven if I didn’t make a commitment to my wife to take a day off.” He by no means retired.

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