Georgia Tech

Architect John Portman Receives Honorary Degree

Dec 17, 2012 | Atlanta, GA

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  • John Portman Addresses the Graduating Class

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  • John Portman

  • Chancellor Henry "Hank" Huckaby, John Portman, President G. P. "Bud" Peterson

  • John Portman receives Honorary Doctorate from President Peterson

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David Morton

There is no stronger or more dynamic role model than John Portman for contemporary students in the Georgia Tech College of Architecture. Brilliant architect, his artwork, his career and his life embody an ambition and drive that few possess. At age 88 Portman has not ‘retired’ but can be found in his office everyday pursuing new projects and new horizons with the same intensity that ignited his career decades ago.

 To say that John Portman is an innovator is not an adequate description of the man whose vision and career has spanned decades and continents, and who has succeeded in architecture, real estate development, finance and management.  His global architectural practice and development companies became the benchmark for mixed-use complexes, urban landmarks and major resorts worldwide.

After receiving his architecture degree in 1950, Portman served a three-year apprenticeship with Stevens & Wilkinson in Atlanta. In 1953, he established his own two-person firm in downtown Atlanta, which merged three years later with the well-established practice of the late H. Griffith Edwards (also a Georgia Tech alumnus), who was a former professor of his at Georgia Tech. The firm was Edwards and Portman until Edwards’ retirement in 1968, at which time the firm became John Portman & Associates.

 In 1966 he challenged traditional hotel design with the invention of an “open atrium” which transformed the industry and became the Portman signature in the design of the Westin, Marriott Marquis and Hyatt Regency hotels.  Portman continued to challenge urban design norms and created urban promenades in downtown Atlanta simultaneously revitalizing the city’s downtown while creating pedestrian circulation and interaction above the streets.  

 Today, John Portman & Associates is a major international architecture and engineering firm with offices in Atlanta and Shanghai. Portman’s Shanghai office, John Portman & Associates International, was established in 1993 and was one of the first foreign architectural firms to work in China. 

 His buildings in Atlanta include: the Westin, Marriott Marquis, and Hyatt Regency hotels; One Peachtree Center; Merchandise Mart, Gift Mart, and Apparel Mart; Decorative Arts Center; Inforum; Woodruff Physical Education Center and Dobbs Student Center at Emory University; and the Dana Fine Arts Building at Agnes Scott College. He designed his home in Atlanta Entelechy, and later the wonderful Entelechy II, on Sea Island.

 He has extensive projects across the world including the Embarcadero Center in San Francisco; Pavilion Hotel and Marina Square in Singapore; and the Shanghai Centre in China and most recently won the competition to develop the site of the Shanghai Expo (see above) into a spectacular hotel complex.

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