John C. Portman Jr. – An Atlanta Legend, A World Icon

Taylor A. Morison

Council for Quality Growth


John C. Portman Jr. – An Atlanta Legend, a World Icon

World-renowned architect and developer, John C. Portman Jr., passed away on Friday, December 29, at the age of 93, after a lifetime spent revitalizing the downtowns of decaying postwar American cities and reimagining and redefining skylines all over the world. Mr. Portman is well known for his urban mixed-use designs wherein his understanding of people and their response to space translated into enhanced environments and award-winning architecture.

Though Portman’s creativity, artistic touch, and post-modernist style touched the entire world, from Shanghai to Brussels to San Francisco, the Council for Quality Growth owes its gratitude to Mr. Portman’s love of, and vision for, our great City of Atlanta. While Portman’s architectural and development ventures took him and his companies across the globe, his commitment to quality growth and development in the Atlanta Region, and the Portman companies’ support and participation with the Council for Quality Growth, never diminished. Across Portman’s 60-plus years of transforming cities, Peachtree Center’s 14-block collection of office towers, hotels, and shopping space in downtown Atlanta is perhaps Portman’s crowning accomplishment, cementing Mr. Portman’s legendary status, revolutionizing hotel construction across the country, and unlocking downtown Atlanta’s renaissance. Today, mainstays of the Atlanta skyline are ubiquitous with Portman’s entrepreneurial spirit and determination to contribute to a better city – From the Peachtree Center, Hyatt Regency Atlanta, Atlanta Gas Light Tower, the Westin Peachtree Plaza, Atlanta’s Marriott Marquis, One Peachtree Center (SunTrust Plaza), the American Cancer Society building, and now the Coda, rising out of Technology Square on the edge of Portman’s alma mater, Georgia Tech. In addition to his success in real estate development, architecture, and engineering, Portman founded and Chaired AmericasMart, the world’s largest trade mart.

Portman’s body of work was inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s interpretation of the essential truths that shape man’s relationship to nature and society, and it was under the banner of “Seeking the Truth” that Mr. Portman was honored in 2013 with the Council for Quality Growth’s Four Pillar Tribute. Michael Paris, Council President & CEO, remembers John Portman “as not only the creator of our skyline, but along with our City’s historic leaders, responsible for the success we have achieved as a diverse and welcoming mecca for all.” In addition to his signature architecture, Portman generously supported philanthropic causes in the City: Portman was a founding member of Atlanta’s Action Forum, a coalition of white and black business leaders who worked to make Atlanta more economically and racially inclusive, donated to help support the infancy of the Atlanta Beltline, and contributed to the City’s purchase of the papers of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

Ambassador Andrew Young, in a City Council meeting in 2011, attested to the contributions that John Portman Jr. made to the City of Atlanta, remarking that he “[didn’t] think that we have a better citizen.” Until his passing on the 29th, Portman was still running Portman & Associates and could be found working in his office six days a week. The Council for Quality Growth offers its sincerest sympathies to the Portman family and all members of the Portman companies. A public memorial service will be held in Portman’s honor on Friday, Jan 5 at 12:30 pm in the atrium of AmericasMart.


The life of John C. Portman Jr. (Courtesy of the Atlanta Journal Constitution)

1924: Born in Walhalla, S.C. on Dec. 4 to John Calvin and Edna Rochester — the only son of six children.

1944: Serves as midshipman at U.S. Naval Academy.

1944: Marries Joan “Jan” Newton.

1950: Receives Bachelor of Architecture degree from Georgia Institute of Technology.

1953: Borrows $300 and opens his own development and architecture firm.

1956: Opens Edwards & Portman with H. Griffith Edwards, his former Georgia Tech professor.

1961: Opens the Atlanta Merchandise Mart for wholesale showrooms and the first Peachtree Center building.

1965: Opens 230 Peachtree, the first Peachtree Center office tower.

1967: Opens the Regency Hyatt House, one of the first hotels with a soaring atrium. Now known as the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, its “blue bubble” top becomes an instant Atlanta landmark.

1968: Edwards retires and the firm name is changed to John Portman & Associates.

1970: Opens the Atlanta Gas Light Tower.

1973: Opens Peachtree Center South Tower.

1975: Designs and develops first overseas project, the Brussels International Trade Mart.

1976: Opens the Westin Peachtree Plaza, then the tallest hotel in North America.

1976: Opens Peachtree Center Harris Tower.

1979: Opens Atlanta Apparel Mart, a wholesale apparel trade center.

1984: Ivy Street is renamed Peachtree Center Boulevard after Portman’s company, Peachtree Center Management Co., requests the change with the idea that it would increase their chances of leasing office space in buildings along the street.

1985: Opens Peachtree Center Marquis One Tower.

1985: Opens downtown’s Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Atlanta’s largest convention hotel. Also opens one in New York City.

1988: Opens Peachtree Center Marquis Two Tower.

1989: Opens Inforum, a technology and computer mart.

1990: Short of cash and $2 billion in debt, Portman turns over assets to his lenders and financial partners. Assets include six Peachtree Center office towers and Inforum.

1990: Awarded a Horatio Alger Award.

1991: Opens Atlanta Gift Mart, a center for the wholesale gift business.

1992: Opens One Peachtree Center (a tower later known as SunTrust Plaza).

1995: Turns over majority ownership of his downtown trade mart complex to creditors as part of the second major restructuring of his massive debts.

1998: Portman’s first new venture involves working with Swedish contracting giant, Skanska International Building, to develop a $70 million hotel in Warsaw, Poland.

1999: AMC Inc., the firm created by Portman’s debt restructuring, pays off $8 million in debt through the sale of its stake in a San Francisco mixed-use office complex.

2006: Portman Holdings signs an agreement with South Korean officials to build a 1,500-acre, $11 billion residential, office and hotel complex near Seoul. The project’s centerpiece, Incheon Tower, is a 151-story, 2,000-foot skyscraper to rival the world’s tallest structures. After being stalled by the recession, plans for Incheon Tower were scrapped.

2006: Awarded design and co-development of a Hilton Hotels Corp. complex in San Diego.

2007: The Inforum is renamed the American Cancer Society after the nonprofit relocates to the building.

2011: The city renames Harris Street John Portman Blvd.

2013: Wins the Four Pillar Award from the Council for Quality Growth.

2015-2016: Portman’s companies win the job to design a luxury InterContinental hotel at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, reopens 230 Peachtree as a hotel and office space and breaks ground on Coda at Technology Square.

2017: Portman’s companies announce a new Midtown office tower near Technology Square with health insurance giant Anthem as anchor tenant.


Please click HERE to read the family-prepared obituary of Mr. John C. Portman.

Please click HERE for a detailed legacy of Mr. John C. Portman.