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Andrea

Portman excels as architect of Atlanta skyline

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Portman excels as architect of Atlanta skyline

I'd be hard pressed to name any single individual who has had as much influence on the Atlanta skyline as John Portman. From the Merchandise Mart and the many Peachtree Center highrises in the 1960's, to the Peachtree Plaza in the 70's, to the Marriott Marquis and the Marquis office towers in the 80's, to the SunTrust Plaza in the 1990's -- Portman's influence has truly been colossal.

I think he deserves a lot of credit for never abandoning Downtown, too. In the decades when other developers raced to Buckhead and Midtown, and headed out to the suburbs, Portman continued to develop world class projects in the central city.

Spanning more than five decades, Portman's work -- including signature developments such as the SunTrust Plaza, Westin Peachtree Plaza, Hyatt Regency Hotel, Marriott Marquis and the AmericasMart and Peachtree Center complexes -- has transformed the city, as well as the way developers and architects work throughout the world.

"When the history books are written, I think John will have if not the most prominent spot in the books, then one of them in creating the infrastructure for this city to grow from," said A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress.

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Portman excels as architect of Atlanta skyline

I'd be hard pressed to name any single individual who has had as much influence on the Atlanta skyline as John Portman. From the Merchandise Mart and the many Peachtree Center highrises in the 1960's, to the Peachtree Plaza in the 70's, to the Marriott Marquis and the Marquis office towers in the 80's, to the SunTrust Plaza in the 1990's -- Portman's influence has truly been colossal.

I think he deserves a lot of credit for never abandoning Downtown, too. In the decades when other developers raced to Buckhead and Midtown, and headed out to the suburbs, Portman continued to develop world class projects in the central city.

I must agree. Atlanta would not have the great skyline, considered by many to be among the best of the US, without the work of Portman. Our city would also probably not be as big of a center for trade and conventions without his work. Congrats to him for winning that award.

Following Atlantans' urge to name things after people, I propose we rename it the Portman Skyline in Atlanta, Georgia! ;) (like Grant Field at Bobby Dodd Stadium)

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Am I the only one who thinks John Portman did more to hurt DT them anyone else? To say I am not a fan of his work is an understatement. Every one of his buildings turns it's back on the street. Apparently when he studied architecture at Tech, he missed all of the lessons except the one on brutalist modernism. His contribution to Atlanta is something that must be overcome instead of built upon.

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I feel that Atlanta's center of life is located more around Underground Atlanta and Five Points instead of Centennial Park. Times Square in New York is usually where all the tourists want to go first; all of my friends that have visited me in Atlanta usually have Five Points first on their lists.

While John Portman is responsible for some very powerful and enduring skyscrapers, his buildings have not been the most urban friendly. They turn inward instead of outward......the shun the common person to cocoon their occupants in a world away from others. Last August my husband and I were on Peachtree St heading north just north of John Wesley Dobbs when we both happened to look up and we saw a sky bridge probably 25 stories in the sky going over Peachtree....to me that was very uncalled for as Atlanta's weather doesn't even warrant such drastic measures to escape the environment. It seem rather stark and standoffish in design.

Oh well......he did help give us a very pretty skyline from 75/85 though. :unsure:

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I agree that John Portman did tear Atlanta down. He is responsible for the loss of Atlanta's downtown; but he is also very much responsible for recreating the minicenters currently located around Atlanta. I truly enjoy his Mariott Marquis - the bending of concrete that Portman was successful with is incredible to see at it's magnanimous size.

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I wish that I had pictures of his Sea Island home. It's amazing to see in person. He is my favorite architect to hate. But he

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It's not fair to make John Portman the scapegoat for the decline of Downtown Atlanta. To be sure, the view on what makes downtown livable has changed a lot since most of his projects were designed, but that doesn't make them bad; it just makes them from another era of thought.

The preveiling midcentury theory was that old-style downtowns were crime-ridden and passe, so he internalized the public spaces for his projects. He wasn't the only architect to do this, and to be fair, his projects were the best executed of the genre.

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Portman didn't need to abandon downtown, because he tore it down & rebuilt much of it.
What did he tear down? The only things I can recall in that area were parking lots and some fairly delapidated buildings. The Marist School and St. Joseph's Infirmary used to be in the next block over but I'm pretty sure even they had both moved out some years before Portman started rebuilding.

If there was a public outcry against Portman's projects at the time, I have never heard anyone who lived in that era speak of it. Obviously I can't speak for public opinion generally, but my sense was that Atlanta was bursting with pride in its new "big city" downtown, in much the way some folks crow about what's going on in other parts of town now.

Many downtown businesses flourished in the years following the building of the Mart, the Hyatt Regency, Peachtree Center and the Peachtree Plaza. I laugh now, but those were, for instance, the popular prom destinations back in the 60's and 70's. That was Atlanta's pride and joy. It was a large part of what made Atlanta a big city in the minds of most, what gave it a skyline that took your breath away when you swooped in from out of town.

People have, of course, criticized Portman's architecture from the get go, as they have many other mid-century architects. I've been a very vocal critic myself. The "back" side of his buildings leave a lot to be desired in terms of walkability and accessibility. Way too often they presented stark concrete walls to the street (as we still see now in the current offerings on Allen Boulevard). However, you cannot say the same of the Peachtree side. When Peachtree Center was built, Atlanta discovered a new and exciting main street, bustling with new-found workers and businesses. If you worked downtown in the 1960's, 70's and 80's, you undoubtedly have many memories of the vibrancy of downtown life.

I think Portman, as well as most other architects of his generation, have to be understood as a product of their time. They were imperfect. He was certainly not an urbanist by current standards. Would his work be hailed today? Perhaps not, although the only landmark structure to be built in downtown Atlanta in the last 15 years has, not surprisingly, been a Portman building. His SunTrust Plaza is 20 stories higher and over twice as large as new heroes such as 1180 Peachtree.

In my opinion, John Portman, for all his flaws, put Atlanta on the map. If you look at the historical evidence, there is very little to suggest that Portman "tore down" Atlanta. Even by the early 1950's, the area that he turned into Peachtree Center had already degenerated mainly into asphalt parking lots and nondescript buildings.

You can look at the 1949 photos here and see that most of the area where Peachtree Center was built was nothing to write home about. Portman is certainly flawed, but without him I don't think Atlanta would have ever broken away from the pack of other mid-size Southern cities.

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You certainly are the one to correct me,so if you say there were nothing but parking lots when he built in the 70's, then I'll have to believe you. It was just a suspicion that there had to be something on the 9+ blocks he built.

But regarding what originally was there, I can't vouch for what type of buildings were there, but I have seen some & I felt they had some character. Which might not indicate signs of a 'large city' as Portman's does, but considering my favorite downtown districts are Fairlie Poplar & southside of downtown, & Peachtree Center is my least favorite, you get where I'm coming from.

But I'll take back my comment about Portman being responsible for demolishing any buildings, if you say so Andrea.

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But to further explain my views - & to be perfectly honest: I am an urban-fascist. My perfect city wouldn't have any cars, & obviously no parking lots & no building would be taller than 10 stories. Also no building would have a full lobby, you enter the building & you have the option to either go upstairs or leave, no indoor shopping.

Basically my ideal city is the late 19th century style.

So of course I hate Portman & view Peachtree Center as an unfortunate neccessity - it's design mirrors the era of the sunbelt late 1900's & did save downtown for a few more decades - but at a price.

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You certainly are the one to correct me,so if you say there were nothing but parking lots when he built in the 70's, then I'll have to believe you. It was just a suspicion that there had to be something on the 9+ blocks he built.

But regarding what originally was there, I can't vouch for what type of buildings were there, but I have seen some & I felt they had some character. Which might not indicate signs of a 'large city' as Portman's does, but considering my favorite downtown districts are Fairlie Poplar & southside of downtown, & Peachtree Center is my least favorite, you get where I'm coming from.

But I'll take back my comment about Portman being responsible for demolishing any buildings, if you say so Andrea.

Er, Brad, I don't think I said there was "nothing but parking lots" where Peachtree Center was built, nor did I suggest that there wasn't "something" where his projects were built.

If you look at the photographs I posted of the Peachtree Center area, you can see that the Harris Street block was already about 60% parking lots even by the late 1940's, and that the Cain Street block was about 40% parking lots by then as well. Yes, some structures were demolished, but I can't recall there being anything of great significance there, nor do I recall anyone voicing any protest. Peachtree Center and the Mart were enthusiastically received as evidence that Atlanta was entering the big leagues.

My point is that I don't think it's a fair criticism to charge John Portman with "tearing down downtown" or to assert that he was primarily responsible for ruining it. Nearly every structure built in a city -- including those being built today -- goes where something else was before. There's always a trade-off, and I don't think Portman, despite his shortcomings, was worse than any other developer. In my opinion, far greater losses were caused by the destruction of buildings closer to Five Points and southward. Much of that has never been addressed.

Although Portman's buildings are seriously flawed, at least he put up buildings of cultural and commercial significance. Street life on the north end of Peachtree boomed for decades as a result of Peachtree Center. The Mart has continued to be one of downtown's giant economic engines. Many major businesses have called the Peachtree Center office towers home for decades. The Hyatt Regency and the Peachtree Plaza were the first major hotels to be built in downtown in decades. A lot of folks still think the Peachtree Plaza is a cool place, and while I've never personally been a fan I'll have to admit I go to the Sundial every five years or so just for the elevator ride.

My own taste in buildings probably runs closer to yours, Brad. I love Fairlie-Poplar, and worked for 10 years at the corner of Luckie and Broad. I walked through that district daily, went to the dentist there, got my clothes cleaned there, and sometimes ate three meals a day there. It's where my father worked, and it's where my career began, too. I even fell in love there! I later moved to an office south of Five Points on Pryor Street, and have a great appreciation for that part of the city, too.

For the most part, Atlanta has done a lousy job of preserving its past, but I simply don't think it's accurate to put the blame for this on John Portman. There are many, many more who have had at least as much to do with the complex and often unfortunate directions growth has taken in this city.

Just as a hypothetical, I wonder what would have happened to downtown if, instead of building downtown, John Portman had decided to leave everything the way it was there and build the the Hyatt Regency, the Marriott Marquis, the Peachtree Plaza, the Mart buildings, the Marquis I and II Towers, the Cain and the South Towers, and Suntrust Plaza in Midtown or Buckhead?

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Andrea - your comments are duly noted & I fully understand your arguement. This is also a very typical arguement that is made regarding Charlotte's downtown, which is also roundly viewed as a terrible site of historic preservation. But in reality - in order for Charlotte to 'succeed' as a banking center & to capitolize on downtown resurgence, it essentially had to tear down the majority of downtown. This succeeded in opening up large tracts of land for major developments & even decreasing land value, but also to making the downtown more car oriented.

Of course Atlanta was one of the pioneers of this type of urban renewal - of creating a clean slate for development. I'm not saying I agree with that policy, I definitely am not but I at least understand why it occured. But I do realize, unfortunately, Atlanta wouldn't be the city it is today if it weren't for urban renewal, for parking lots, for shopping centers & essentially for sprawl - that has been the magnet that has attracted people here. But it might not be the magnet for the future, which is the dilemna, Atlanta will never be able to undo what happened to it's downtown.

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Andrea, what would have happened is that Midtown or Buckhead would have become places that look good when you are whizzing by on the interstate but where pedestrians would feel isolated and ignored...oh wait their like that anyway.

Portman may have been a pioneer in building downtown, but to me DT Atlanta is a textbook case of BAD architecture. I thank God that style of modernism has gone the way of the dodo. The only bright spot I see (with regards to Portmans buildings) is the SunTrust Plaza. Still not completely street friendly, but nowhere near as bad as his others. And with regards to the "Gerbil Runs" you mentioned in an earlier post, I agree Atlanta should never ever allow another one to be constructed.

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Andrea, what would have happened is that Midtown or Buckhead would have become places that look good when you are whizzing by on the interstate but where pedestrians would feel isolated and ignored...oh wait their like that anyway.

Portman may have been a pioneer in building downtown, but to me DT Atlanta is a textbook case of BAD architecture. I thank God that style of modernism has gone the way of the dodo. The only bright spot I see (with regards to Portmans buildings) is the SunTrust Plaza. Still not completely street friendly, but nowhere near as bad as his others. And with regards to the "Gerbil Runs" you mentioned in an earlier post, I agree Atlanta should never ever allow another one to be constructed.

Well, I hope you guys don't take me as a defender of John Portman's architecture because I'm not. I grew up with old-timey human scale, pedestrian-oriented streets and still think they are clearly the way to go. Sadly, a great deal of the work that is being done these days continues to replicate many of the errors of the 1960's. (The Bank of America Tower still boggles my mind as an example of how not to do things).

Nonetheless, I still believe the work of Portman has to be recognized as critical to Atlanta becoming what it is. I would agree that some of the fault for the way things have gone can be laid at his feet, but I don't think it is at all accurate to blame him for destroying downtown or making Atlanta the pedestrian nightmare that it has become. At its peak, Peachtree Center was fun, and for 25 years the stretch of Peachtree from Five Points to Baker Street was the closest thing Atlanta had to a bustling, big city street.

Was that really the model that we wanted? In retrospect, I think not. There are far too many deep and powerful social currents to ever recreate urban cities in the mode of New York, Boston or Philadelphia. Yet 50 years ago they were the beacon of urbanness, and Sunbelt cities who wanted to join the elite circle aspired to create a skyline that would mark them as big league.

As I've commented elsewhere, towers in a place like Atlanta are not about density or transportation. We'd be much better off squashing down our highrises and spreading them out over several blocks and making our streets truly pedestrian friendly. In my opinion, towers have a lot more to do with signifying having "arrived" as an urban center. Now that we've got our towers, I'm glad Atlantans (including me) are beginning to re-envision our metropolis as a city in its own right.

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As I've commented elsewhere, towers in a place like Atlanta are not about density or transportation. We'd be much better off squashing down our highrises and spreading them out over several blocks and making our streets truly pedestrian friendly. In my opinion, towers have a lot more to do with signifying having "arrived" as an urban center. Now that we've got our towers, I'm glad Atlantans (including me) are beginning to re-envision our metropolis as a city in its own right.

Towers in New York, Chicago, Boston, etc. were built because they ran out of room to build out, so they built up, the only other direction availiable. Towers in places like Atlanta and Charlotte are built more just so we could say we have them....or perhaps because of a corporation's effort (which is almost always tied in with that first reason I mentioned).

It must be blatantly obvious to you guys, but I figured I'd try to simplify it for tsome of the others here. Sunbelt and the old guard cities of NYC, Boston, etc. are just two different breeds of city because of where and how they are situated.

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Of course Atlanta was one of the pioneers of this type of urban renewal - of creating a clean slate for development. I'm not saying I agree with that policy, I definitely am not but I at least understand why it occured. But I do realize, unfortunately, Atlanta wouldn't be the city it is today if it weren't for urban renewal, for parking lots, for shopping centers & essentially for sprawl - that has been the magnet that has attracted people here. But it might not be the magnet for the future, which is the dilemna, Atlanta will never be able to undo what happened to it's downtown.
Brad, yeah, I agree with most of what you've said. In one of my earlier posts on this board I made reference to Atlanta's long history of civic boosterism. As I said there, boosterism isn't mere bragging, it's about positioning the city as bigger, better and more important than its "competitors" in terms of commerce. It's about being bigger and better in other areas, too, but I think it's mostly driven by economic aspirations. The "New South" of Henry Grady and the "City Too Busy to Hate" of more recent times were not really slogans about how warm and fuzzy we are down here but about what a great place we are to do business.

I believe that, far more than anything one indidvidual such as John Portman may have done, is what shaped Atlanta. When there has been tension between preserving history or quality of life versus putting up a tall building or adding more lanes to the roads, well, I think we know which side has usually prevailed.

I don't mean to single Atlanta out as the only place that's subject to these criticisms, of course. Although we've arguably been more guilty of this than some other cities, it's pretty common all over the U.S.

I don't think we'll ever undo what's happened to downtown, but I don't think it's breathed its last either. Even in its heyday, downtown Atlanta was much more a business than a residential district. It's cool to see more people living downtown. My thought is that we are likely to see it as part of a larger urban core that essentially stretches along the Peachtree spine from the Capitol area up to Lenox. I personally don't see anything wrong with a city laid out like that so long as there's good connectivity and pedestrian viability.

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What is downtown's population? I thought I read it was about 25,000 somewhere. That would place it among some of the most populous in the nation (not near the top, but on the list).

Here's (pdf) one of the lists I found (not the one I was looking for, but it serves the purpose).

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This is off topic except for the fact that Portman is based here, but it's kind of interesting. 151 stories is getting on up there!

Portman Tower in S. Korea to be among world's tallest

Awww....c'mon Portman, you're supposed to build all the good stuff here.

Darn it :angry:

:silly::silly:

In reality, though, that is quite some tower. Great to see Portman's still busy! I wonder if it will communicate better with the street than his work here and throughout the rest of America? (there's another off topic thought for you!)

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Awww....c'mon Portman, you're supposed to build all the good stuff here.

Darn it :angry:

:silly::silly:

It a nice tower but did you know it's being built 20 miles outside of Seoul, Korea? With that mindset, it would've ended up in Cartersville, Kennesaw or someplace out in Forsyth, Douglas or Gwinnett County.

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I could see Lawrenceville trying to pull something like that. After all, success lives in Gwinnett!

Oh no, it's spreading! It's a shame when known non-Atlantans know that county's slogan. I could see happening in out in Gwinnett, probably across from the Mall of Georgia, then they would say it's the epicenter of our state.

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John Portman's portfolio of overseas buildings is much more impressive than his US offerings. He has been able to find more work in foreign cities. The American banks turned their backs on him for the most part. I hope that he does another grand tower here.

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John Portman's portfolio of overseas buildings is much more impressive than his US offerings. He has been able to find more work in foreign cities. The American banks turned their backs on him for the most part. I hope that he does another grand tower here.

Me too.

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