A Conversation with John Portman and at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.
John Portman pioneered the role of Architect as Developer by financing, owning managing and designing major building projects throughout the world. His philosophy of architecture is rooted in the desire to understand and shape the aesthetic as well as the economic dimensions of the urban environment. Portman, over a 55 year career, has personally designed and realized the construction of over 50 million sqft of commercial space, over 40,000 hotel rooms and over 18 million sqft of mart and exhibition space. These projects have had a positive impact on the urban fabric of major cities in the United States and around the world including Atlanta, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Singapore, Beijing and Shanghai. Portman’s leadership in the movement to revitalize America’s city centers as architect and developer of large scale mixed-use projects marked the US’s return to urbanism in the latter half of the 20th century. Portman received a Bachelor of Science in Architecture degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1950. After a three year apprenticeship, he opened his own firm and in 1956, he formed a partnership with H. Griffith Edwards to create Edwards & Portman, Architects. When Mr. Edwards retired in 1968, the firm became John Portman & Associates. Today, Portman is best known for his urban mixed-use complexes wherein his understanding of people and their response to space translates into enhanced environments and award-winning architecture which have had great impact on the cities in which they were built. Portman’s impact is perhaps greatest on his hometown of Atlanta where today the 14-block Peachtree Center complex attests to his commitment to the downtown business district and includes some of his landmark projects such as the Hyatt Regency Atlanta Hotel. The High Museum of Art in Atlanta recently opened a successful exhibition entitled “John Portman, Art and Architecture” which highlights not only his accomplishments in architecture, but also his work as a painter, sculptor and designer of furniture. John Portman believes that an architect cannot gain understanding by isolating himself. He must interact with his society through participation and public exposure. Mr. Portman has always been an active participant in civic and community affairs, and with his design philosophy, he has made a profound impact on Atlanta and the international community.