John Portman



The son of a civil servant and an aesthetician, John Portman studied at the United States Naval Academy before graduating at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He established his studio in 1953, and was able from the start to make the most of his instinct for business, which would embark him on ambitious real estate projects, hotels mostly, which he successfully built in major American cities and also in Shanghai or Mumbai. Portman’s greatest contribution was, precisely, his research on the urban hotel type, which he transformed – through works like the Hyatt Regency San Francisco or the Hyatt Regency Atlanta – into skyscrapers with endless balconies and walkways around open and organic atriums, so huge that, as was sometimes said, they could hold the Statue of Liberty. The type was reviled by critics – who accused Portman of building concrete islands unable to connect with the city – and at the same time admired by the public – amazed by the surprise effect of the soaring atriums –, and is already part of the popular imagination through films like High Anxiety, directed by Mel Brooks, and In the Line of Fire, directed by Clint Eastwood.

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