John Portman: A Life of Building / Ben Loeterman / 2011

John Portman: A Life of Building / Ben Loeterman / 2011


Footnotes

NYT: What were your early influences?
JP: Tivoli Gardens was one. Sure, it’s an amusement thing, but it’s much more than that. Another influence was observing people walk the Champs-Élysées. When you’re sitting at a cafe, you’re in the audience. And when you’re walking up and down the street, you’re on a stage. And people are happy in both roles. Have you ever been to the Alhambra in Spain?
NYT: I haven’t.
JP: You poor guy. In architecture circles, there used to be a saying that if you went to the Alhambra, you never get it out of your mind. Everything has an impact.

JP: Most architects don’t build their own houses. You don’t have anyone you can blame if the design doesn’t work — you can’t blame it on the client. I asked myself, “What was the beginning of architecture?” In my mind, it was when man raised the first column and created space. Entelechy I evolved from that kind of thinking.
When I went to the beach for
Entelechy II, the first image that came to me was the umbrella in the sand, and the blanket under the umbrella. And people sitting under it and reading books. I wanted something where architecture and nature would come together. It’s not architecture with a few trees planted around it.

For Portman, architecture was essentially about enhancing the human experience, about giving a guy on the street a moment of protection, or exhilaration, or excitement, or simply an experience. ‘It is kind of like Candid Camera,’ he said of his observations of humanity. ‘When I’m in a house, when I’m in a restaurant, when I’m in a theatre, when I’m on the sidewalk, when I’m on the plaza, I’m observing people and their reactions to things,’ he said. How, then, given all of this control and all of this observation, did he avoid getting a God complex? ‘It’s just about asking, “Why am I here?”’ he said. ‘Why, why, why, why, why?’ Entelechy II is the closest Portman could have come to an answer.

Portman incurred the mistrust of critics and his fellow professionals, in particular for combining the role of developer and architect. He was dangerously conflicted, they thought. For Portman, development was a means to achieve his artistic goals. “Architecture is what I’m about,” was one of his declarations. He also said: “I came to the conclusion that if I were to have an impact – and not be just part of a process I could not control – I should understand the entire project from conception through completion. That led me to real estate.” On another occasion he put the same point, pithily but grandiosely, like this: “I’m the Medici to my own Leonardo.”

In a 1984 essay, the Marxist cultural critic Fredric Jameson cast the Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles as a built encapsulation of late capitalism, a structure whose hermetic and sometimes-confounding interior could, in fact, be anywhere. By the end of the 1980s, the Pritzker Prize–winning architect Rem Koolhaas had characterized Portman’s atrium as “a container of artificiality” and “a device that spread from Atlanta … to the rest of the world.” Even Morris Lapidus, a midcentury architect remembered for his flamboyant hotel designs, conceded in 1978, “There is just too much going on in some of Portman’s interiors.” Still, others saw much to applaud. In 1981 the author and journalist Tom Wolfe approvingly referred to Portman’s hotels as “Babylonian ziggurats” with “thirty-story atriums and hanging gardens and crystal elevators.”


Extras

▶︎ John Portman: Five Decades of Atlanta Architecture / High Museum / 2009

▶︎ John Portman Reflects on His Life's Work / Global Atlanta / 2009

◼︎ Portman’s Complaint: How John Portman Built Modern Downtown Atlanta And Changed The Face Of Urban America / Steve Oney / Esquire / June 1987

◼︎ No architect ever loved Atlanta like John Portman / Richard L. Eldredge / Atlanta Magazine / 04 January 2018

◼︎ John Portman (1924-2017) / Paul Davies / The Architectural Review / 8 September 2017

◼︎ The Kubla Khan of Hotels / Aric Chen / The New York Times / 25 June 2006

◼︎ John Portman, Architect Who Made Skylines Soar, Dies at 93 / Robert D. McFadden / The New York Times / 30 December 2017

◼︎ Icon of the Month: John Portman / Kazys Varnelis / ICON / 07 July 2010

◼︎ Get a Rare Look Inside the Private Homes of One of America’s Most Innovative Architects / Fred A. Bernstein / Architectural Digest / 22 January 2018

◼︎ John Portman is a “Renaissance Architect,” Says Harvard GSD’s Mohsen Mostafavi / Samuel Medina / Metropolis / 25 October 2017

◼︎ Making Sense of John Portman / Mark Byrnes / CityLab / 5 March 2018

◼︎ XL / Alexandra Lange / Design Observer / 01 December 2009

◼︎ “Creating a city within a city”: John Portman’s Peachtree Center and Private Urban Renewal in Atlanta / Irene Holliman Way / Atlanta Studies / 15 January 2019

▶︎ John Portman: Architect as Developer / Lecture at AA School of Architecture / 27 April 1982

▶︎ John Portman: A Life Of Building - Panel Discussion / 2011

▶︎ Architect John Portman, Famous For Modern Skyscrapers, Dies At 93 / NPR / 02 January 2018

✖︎ Hyatt Regency Atlanta / John Portman & Associates / 1967

✖︎ Peachtree Center / John Portman & Associates / 1961–2015

✖︎ Atlanta Marriot Marquis Hotel / John Portman & Associates / 1985

✖︎ Beijing Yintai Centre / John Portman & Associates / 2008


Sources

◼︎ John Portman, Symphonic Architect / Steven Kurutz / The New York Times / 19 October 2011

◼︎ John Portman’s Entelechy II is a complex map of a long and fruitful life / Eva Hagberg / Wallpaper / 29 December 2018

◼︎ 'Disneyland for adults': John Portman's dizzying interior legacy / Rowan Moore / The Guardian / 22 October 2018

◼︎ Once Unfashionable, John Portman Is Being Seen in a New Light / Phillip Denny / Metropolis / 23 January 2018


The Postman Dreams 2: The Punch / Autumn de Wilde / 2017

The Postman Dreams 2: The Punch / Autumn de Wilde / 2017

Renaissance Center / c. 1976

Renaissance Center / c. 1976