John Portman, the Atlanta-based architect, known for his large-scale megastructures and iconic hotels, died on December 29th, aged 93. Mohsen Mostafavi, dean at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and editor of Portman's America, pays tribute to the excellent architect, urban developer and his dear friend.
John Portman was an exceptional human being and an extraordinarily innovative practitioner. Architects have not always been encouraged or allowed to combine the world of design with that of development. The conventional view of this relationship is that of potential compromise. But John’s work defied this convention. His knowledge and his talents worked hand in hand to produce a diversity of architectural innovations at a multiplicity of scales, from single buildings to parts of cities.
I admire the architecture of John’s two family homes. He named them Entelechy I and Entelechy II – the word means the “realization of potential”; it defines a movement from matter to form. It is a word that sums up well John’s own capacities. Being able to make things actual. In some ways, too, John’s designs for these two homes is a manifestation of his approach to architecture as something that has historically been referred to as the “total work of art” – or Gesamtkunstwerk. John was able to go from designing an armchair to designing a whole sector of a city.
Quite recently, we had a wonderful event here in Atlanta – at the High Museum – to celebrate the launch of the book that I edited called Portman’s American & Other Speculations. A few people made their remarks. John was frail, and we’d all assumed he would not say anything. But he surprised us. He pressed both hands on the table in front of him and rose almost by sheer force of will. He stood there, with his hands resting on the table, his body straight, and spoke at length and eloquently about architecture and life and all the things that he was so good at.
I will miss him.
Recently Metropolis Magazine published an extensive article on John Portman’s work, the story of his success and his legacy.
“For many young architects, Portman’s long career represents a high standard of creative gumption. While a previous generation condemned the joining of architecture and development in a single figure, few millennials are unpersuaded by the monumental products of Portman’s efforts. The wildly original works of this hybrid architect-developer stand in stark contrast to the often-banal and sometimes-destructive creations of unfettered real estate development that are the tradition of modern city-building in the U.S,” writer Phillip Denny states.
Read the full piece here.