"The most influential living American architect is John Calvin Portman, Jr. Countless other architects have copied him but the music just isn’t the same." Paul Gapp
Portman’s impact was perhaps greatest on his hometown of Atlanta, where today the 14-block Peachtree Center complex which he designed and developed without the use of any public funds attests to his commitment to the downtown business district and includes many of his landmark projects. Peachtree Center began in 1961 with the opening of the Atlanta Merchandise Mart. The Mart has since grown to become AmericasMart, the world’s largest single wholesale marketplace in a fully integrated complex connected by aerial pedestrian bridges. By stimulating trade and tourism, Portman was the catalyst that established Atlanta as one of the nation’s premiere convention cities. His three major downtown hotels, the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, The Westin Peachtree Plaza, and the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, anchor the city’s convention district. From the opening of the Hyatt Regency Atlanta in 1967, with its 22-story atrium, Portman made architectural history and won international acclaim.
By carefully rethinking the typical urban hotel, Portman readdressed the guest experience to create the antithesis of the confining environment of traditional city hotels. The Hyatt Regency Atlanta was constructed around a twenty-two story, sky-lit atrium with glass cabbed elevators providing an experiential journey through the atrium to a revolving roof-top restaurant.
Portman became internationally recognized for urban mixed-use complexes wherein his understanding of people and their response to space translated into enhanced environments and award-winning architecture. From Embarcadero Center in San Francisco and Times Square in New York, to Marina Square in Singapore and Shanghai Centre in China, he has taken people away from the congestion of urban life to create spaces that are open and uplifting to the human spirit. In Detroit, Henry Ford sought Portman’s help to stop urban flight from the city with the design of Renaissance Center. In Los Angeles, The Bonaventure Hotel initiated the renewal efforts in the city’s Bunker Hill section. With the exception of Renaissance Center, Portman performed the dual role of architect and developer.
Portman’s international work began with the design and development of the Brussels Trade Mart in 1975, then shifted to the Far East. The Regent Singapore was Portman’s first international hotel, followed by Marina Square, also in Singapore, a major complex that includes three hotels, a retail mall and an office building. Portman entered China in 1980 as one of the first American architects or developers to become actively involved when China opened its doors to the West. Portman’s pioneer project, Shanghai Centre, a large, mixed-use complex, has been described by China Daily as "one of the five architectural stars in mainland China."
Paul Goldberger, architectural critic of The New York Times, wrote "He (Portman) is the only architect of his era to create not only a series of significant buildings, but a new urban type." Paul Gapp of The Chicago Tribune wrote at the time, "The most influential living American architect is John Calvin Portman, Jr. Countless other architects have copied him but the music just isn’t the same."