John C. Portman Jr., the renowned architect, developer and artist who reshaped downtown Atlanta and recently created public art for a Buckhead park, died Dec. 29, according to his firm, John Portman & Associates.
Portman, a longtime Sandy Springs resident, was 93.
Atlanta Mayor-elect Keisha Lance Bottoms said in a social media post that the “passing of John Portman is loss for all Atlanta. His work & love of our city defined who we are across the world. My sincerest condolences.”
“Mr. Portman is one of our city’s great men,” said Mayor Kasim Reed on social media. “My heart goes out to his wonderful family and all who loved him. May God’s grace cover and console them.”
Portman first gained notice in the early 1960s for building what is now known as the AmericasMart trade complex in Atlanta, according to a memorial website, created by John Portman & Associates, at jcp-legacy.com. He then began the sprawling Peachtree Center complex, known for its several hotels featuring dramatic atriums. He soon became globally famous, designing and construction similar complexes around the county and the world. Among his other notable local projects was the Northpark office tower complex in Sandy Springs, built in the 1980s and 1990s.
Portman also was among the group of civic leaders who steered Atlanta’s “city too busy to hate” philosophy in the Civil Rights era, quietly pressing for racial integration while aiming to avoid protests or riots. His AmericasMart featured the city’s first two integrated restaurants, according to the memorial website.
Aside from his architectural work, Portman was known for his large-scale sculptures, often in a geometric or abstract style, that often adorned his buildings. A respected artist, Portman was featured in a High Museum show several years ago.
Portman created a monumental sculpture specifically for Buckhead’s Charlie Loudermilk Park, named for his longtime friend and fellow legendary Atlanta business leader. Unveiled earlier this year with Portman in attendance, “Aspiration” is an abstract sculpture of steel and water.
“Charlie Loudermilk and I share more than a love for the city of Atlanta; we share a deep friendship and mutual respect for one another,” Portman said in a statement to the Reporter in 2016, when his commission to create the sculpture was announced. “I am honored to have been asked to create a sculpture for his park. I put my heart into creating something of meaning for him and also in recognition of the significance of Buckhead in our urban fabric.”
About the sculpture itself, Portman said at the time: “The intertwining forms that make up the sculpture pay homage to the energy of the [Loudermilk Park] site and denote the evolving development of Buckhead, which can best be described as activity in all directions. The sculpture is intended to mark the growing significance of Buckhead as a community in its own right.”
Portman’s architecture had its critics, including a local case that was his most personal project: his own Sandy Springs home at Northside Drive and Mount Vernon Highway. A decade ago, his attempt to build a monumental house was opposed by an army of neighbors and the city’s Board of Zoning Appeal. In making his case at a city hearing at that time, Portman said the house would not be visible to the public, and spoke in affectionate tones about the area.
“I like being close to the city,” Portman said, according to a Reporter story from the time. “I like having all these trees. My family loves it and I have a very large family. We all talked about this and decided it was in the best interest of the family, the best interest of this property and the best interest of Sandy Springs.”
Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul said that his communications and consulting business did some work for Portman’s organization several years ago, “so I had the opportunity to see his genius at work. He was a pioneer, innovator and legend within the architecture community and was one of the seminal architects of the 20th century.”
According to the memorial website, a public service will be held for Portman on Friday, Jan. 5, 12:30 p.m. in the atrium of AmericasMart Building 3 at the corner of John Portman Boulevard and Ted Turner Drive in Atlanta. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions be made to the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, Office of Gift Records, Emory University, 1762 Clifton Road N.E., Suite 1400, Atlanta, GA 30322. Condolences may be sent in care of Jana Portman Simmons, Portman Holdings, 303 Peachtree Center Ave. N.E., Suite 575, Atlanta, GA 30303.