John Portman, Peachtree Center, Embarcadero Center, Renaissance Center, Dies at 93


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Oct 24, 2009
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Images from Atlanta, including Peachtree Center, are below

I remember following his developments with keen interest. His hotel atriums were widely imitated by other architects as the article states. His architecture was notable and made a splash whether you liked it or not. Edit: referring to his downtown “Centers”.

“Making sense of John Portman”
CityLab, March 5, 2018

Curbed Atlanta, Oct 2, 2017
“First look: Downtown landmark Peachtree Center to be reborn as ‘The Hub’”

Mr. Portman’s cylindrical The Westin Peachtree Plaza hotel

His SunTrust Plaza building (on the right, photo taken from The Westin)

The Architect’s Newspaper
“John Portman’s Peachtree Center is now a Georgia landmark”
By JACKSON ROLLINGS • October 2, 2017

For most Georgians, the Peachtree Center is a defining feature of Atlanta. A transportation hub, a shopping complex, and public plaza densely thatched in by hotels and office buildings, the Peachtree Center is a point of reference in the downtown area. The buildings within the Center were largely designed by John Portman & Associates from 1961 through 1988, beginning with the Atlanta Furniture Mart and expanding outward. It is the largest mixed-use center in one of the most populated cities in the South. Now it has been added to the Georgia Register of Historic Places, a first step towards possible inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

Spanning 14 blocks, the Peachtree Center includes the AmericasMart (1957), the Hyatt Regency Atlanta (1967), the Westin Peachtree Plaza (1976), and the Atlanta Marriott Marquis (1985), as well as eight office buildings, retail space, restaurants, and parking garages. Taken together, the complex is a constellation of Portman’s Southern late modernism and exemplifies the developer-architect approach that Portman, now 92, has built.

Visually, the buildings are unified by their precast concrete and reflective plate glass curtain wall panels, as well as poured-in-place concrete elements. Though the Center is criticized by contemporary planners for the 24 suspended glass catwalks that connect buildings but remove pedestrian traffic (and commerce) from the street, the mixed-use, all-in-one typology that Portman pioneered was innovative urban planning in its time. The forbidding brutalist architecture of buildings like the Merchandise Mart and the futuristic cylindrical glass column of the Westin Peachtree Plaza are connected by the infrastructure layering them together.

Portman’s chilly glass facades and plummeting interiors have proved irresistible to film and television producers. The Peachtree Center is frequently featured in sci-fi and fantasy TV footage, as well as films set in the future, including The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Walking Dead.

As the site has evolved over the past 50-plus years, it has continually been redeveloped even when the surrounding downtown area was beset by economic change. Per Portman’s plan to design supersize spaces to work at the pedestrian scale, the Peachtree Center is today a busy node of Atlanta’s MARTA (mass transit) system and nearby bus terminal, funneling arrivals into an easily accessible network of restaurants, shops, markets, and more.

From The Official Visitors Guide of Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau:
You won’t find many peach trees on the road, for Peachtree Street was named for a large Creek Indian settlement called Standing Pitch Tree. As the story goes, the Creek used trees with fresh pitch, or sap from a pine tree, for solemnizing treaties. “Pitch tree” became “peach tree” to English speakers.

New canopy on the north side of the baggage and security checkpoint building at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Ponce City Market’s website-
PONCE CITY MARKET breathes new life into the historic Sears, Roebuck & Co. building in Atlanta. The classic structure, which is the area’s largest adaptive reuse project, has been reinvented as a vibrant community hub housing the Central Food Hall, various shops, flats and offices, all while pointing back to the roots of its inception.
Wikipedia- Opened on August 25, 2014 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2016., July 1, 2019
In shadow of Ponce City Market, office and condo ventures moving forward

“Development near Ponce City Market continues to surge ahead, which, given the city’s strong economy and PCM’s cachet, should come as little surprise.
Unlike years past, however, that activity isn’t relegated to apartments and parks. New boutique office space and still-rare, for-sale condos are now bound for the neighborhood.”

A connection to the Atlanta Beltline Trail

Atlanta Beltline Eastside Trail bridge over Ponce de Leon Avenue.
The Beltline will eventually encircle the core of Atlanta with 22 miles of concrete pavement.

Very busy trail, at least on a Sunday

View of Midtown Atlanta

Bank of America tower on Peachtree Street

Beltline’s Eastside Trail currently ends at 10th and Monroe across from the southeast corner of Piedmont Park.

Southeast corner of Piedmont Park

Dogwood Festival held in April

The movie “Gone with the Wind” (1939) is the highest domestic grossing movie of all time (adjusted for inflation) at $1,822,598,200 - USAToday, June 21, 2019, “Top 100 grossing movies of all time”

Corner Bakery Cafe across the street from the Hyatt Regency hotel

From, June 4, 2019,
Postmodern and late modern architecture: The ultimate guide

Opened in 1967, the revolutionary Hyatt Regency Atlanta blew apart previous notions of boxy, rectilinear hotel design. The open, 22-story atrium was something very different indeed, and is in fact still attributable to architect John Portman today: a blend of Italian piazza, Neo-Futurist monumentality, and soaring balconies lined with ivy. Guests in the ’60s lined up by the hundreds just to ride the glorious glass elevators—at $35,000 per cab, the custom systems were, at the time, the most expensive in the world.

After all these decades, Mr. Portman’s Hyatt Regency atrium still impresses.

His SunTrust Plaza office tower is 60 stories and 869 feet tall. Completed in 1992, it is part of Peachtree Center. John Portman & Associates Architects have their offices here. - Wikipedia

Architect John Portman’s designs AND developments:
Left - Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel. Middle - Peachtree Center. Right - AmericasMart Building 1
Wikipedia - AmericasMart Atlanta, a wholesale trade center consists of three buildings totaling seven million square feet., July 10, 2019
AmericasMart overhaul to launch soon at prominent downtown corner

“Stage one will include an ASD | Sky-designed redo of the AmericasMart Building 1 lobby at the southwest corner of Peachtree Street and John Portman Boulevard.” “... construction is expected to begin immediately after the Summer 2019 Market season and wrap up next winter.”

“Details on future Atlanta NEXT phases—to include enhancements at AmericasMART Buildings 2 and 3, a block to the west—will be announced in coming months, officials said.”

Exterior of the Hyatt Regency

Curbed Atlanta - “The Hub at Peachtree Center features a glass staircase—the “architectural centerpiece”—that draws in passersby and a pedestrian plaza replete with fresh greenery, seating, and water fixtures.” “The plaza will be ready to host concerts and other public events.” ”The mall has been updated with fresh paint, new ceilings and lighting fixtures, and a few new tenants.”

During my visit, the Hub bustled with office workers at lunch and the morning rush to work.

Looking north on Peachtree Street

Atlanta Streetcar

Atlanta hosted the 1996 Summer Olympics and built Centennial Olympic Park.

The Mercedes-Benz stadium, or “The Benz”, cost $1.5 billion, opened Aug, 2017, seats 71,000 for Falcons football and 32,000 for Atlanta United soccer, is certified LEED Platinum. (U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)

The Gulch - Curbed Atlanta states, “CIM Group’s ambitions for the Gulch parcels it’s assembling could constitute between a dozen and 15 city blocks, with between seven and 12 million square feet of new construction. Essentially a mini-city, with privatized streets.” “The Atlanta City Council narrowly approved legislation that could funnel nearly $2 billion in public monies to help fund the planned $5 billion development of downtown’s depressing pit of parking lots and train tracks.”

Five Points Station

Coca-Cola’s headquarters is in Atlanta

The Stitch - Curbed Atlanta states, “The Downtown Atlanta Master Plan highlights the Stitch project, which would bring 14 acres of new construction and green space atop a half-mile stretch of the Interstate 75/85 Connector.” One end of the concrete platform would be adjacent to Marta’s Civic Center Station where this picture was taken.

Promenade (formerly Promenade II) is a 691 feet tall skyscraper in Midtown Atlanta. It has 40 stories of office space and its construction was completed in 1990. It is set diagonally to the street grid to maximize its impact on the skyline and allow tenants better views. - Wikipedia

One Atlantic Center, also known as IBM Tower, was completed in 1987 and is 820 feet tall, 50 stories. Introduced Atlanta to the postmodern architectural idiom of the 80s and was designed by Johnson/Burgee Architects. - Wikipedia

High Museum of Art designed by Richard Meier and opened in 1983. Meier won the 1984 Pritzker Prize after completing the building. - Wikipedia

1180 Peachtree, commonly known as the Symphony Tower, is a 41-story skyscraper, completed in 2006, designed by architectural firm Pickard Chilton of Connecticut - Wikipedia

Westin Peachtree Plaza hotel is 73 stories with an elevator on the side.

At 1,023 feet, the Bank of America building is the tallest building in Georgia and was completed in 1992. The building was developed by Cousins Properties and designed by the architectural firm Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates LLC.[11]Designed in the Postmodern style reminiscent of Art Deco, it was built in only 14 months, one of the fastest construction schedules for any 1,000 ft (300 m) building. - Wikipedia

Fox Theatre is a National Historic Landmark. Designed in the 1920s, it was originally a Yaarab Temple Shrine Mosque - Atlanta Visitor’s Bureau

“Atlantic Station is an outdoor mall combining shopping, dining and entertainment”

Numerous stairwells to a sprawling underground garage

View from Atlantic Station

Woodruff Park is named for Robert W Woodruff, a president of the Coca-Cola Company from to 1923 until 1954.

Georgia-Pacific Tower is 697 feet tall, 52 stories and finished in 1982. The architectural firm that designed it was Skidmore, Owings and Merrill.
The tower is on the former site of the Loew's Grand Theatre, where the premiere for the 1939 film Gone with the Wind was held. The theatre could not be demolished because of its landmark status; it burned down in 1978, clearing the way for the tower. - Wikipedia.

Fairlie–Poplar Historic District

Pittypat’s Porch, serving southern dining, was named after Scarlett O’Hara’s Aunt Pittypat in the film, “Gone with the Wind”.

Pedestrian bridges connect buildings Two and Three of AmericasMart Atlanta.

Margaret Mitchell Square

Can’t get enough of the Georgia-Pacific building

La Quinta Inn Atlanta Airport North, attractively designed lobby/breakfast area

Airport Station

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Staff member
Sep 15, 2010
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A tremendous loss for the modernist movement. May his spirit soar as high as his atria. Without Portman redefining how the interior of a building could be arranged, Zaha('s firm) wouldn't be celebrating creating the world's tallest atrium.

Beton Brut

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May 25, 2006
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Portman was a brilliant man, and a real artist. He got to work on a grand scale, and was up to the task. I don't know that his ethos began as "populist," but many folks who knew nothing of Modernism first experienced the movement in his epic hotel spaces and were moved and inspired by them.

I recall a quote from Julius Shulman's agent, Craig Krull, at the time of the great photographer's passing:

"Modernism is characterized by an optimistic spirit, a belief that the future holds great promise and technology will improve civilization."

John Portman's work embodies that optimism.