Architecture Creates Portman Dean’s Chair

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With one stroke of a pen, guided by a truly visionary alumnus, the College of Architecture has taken a giant step forward.

With that step, Architecture now becomes the fourth College at Tech to create an endowed dean’s chair — a move that recognizes one of the most prestigious levels of academic leadership and drives the College upward. The chair will bear the name of one of Georgia Tech’s most distinguished graduates, renowned architect John C. Portman Jr.

“Atlanta is my town,” Portman explained. “Georgia Tech is a jewel in Atlanta’s crown, and the College of Architecture played a pivotal role in the shaping of my life. I am honored to partner with the institution that means so much to me, while it aims to ensure generations of aspiring architects have a world-class educational foundation on which to build their dreams, contribute to the field, and improve the lives of people everywhere.”

The John Portman Dean’s Chair will greatly enhance — in perpetuity — the College’s ability to attract and retain the very best academic leaders. In addition, it will provide the resources to meet pressing needs within the College and take advantage of emerging opportunities. Dean Steven French will be the first to hold the chair.

“The Portman Dean’s Chair is transformative,” French said. “It is absolutely indispensable to reaching our strategic goals, but it also serves as an inspirational legacy to generations of architects in the Georgia Tech community.”

French, a professor of city and regional planning, served as associate dean for research within the College from 2009 to 2013. Both he and his predecessor, Alan Balfour, whose five-year tenure was marked by innovation and leadership in implementing structural changes, have been committed to connecting with alumni and enlisting their support in advancing the College of Architecture.

Portman is chairman of The Portman Companies — affiliated architecture, development, financing, and management companies — all headquartered in Atlanta. Since the founding of his firm in 1953, he has been a pioneer in architecture, introducing the very concept of the architect as developer. Over the course of more than 60 years, The Portman Companies have developed and/or designed more than 50 million square feet of space globally, spanning the segments of mixed-use, hospitality, office, residential, exhibition, and higher education.

Portman’s impact has been felt around the world, but no city benefited more from his vision than Atlanta, whose downtown he revolutionized over a span of 50 years, beginning in the 1960s. The 14-block Peachtree Center complex features many of his landmark projects, including the Atlanta Merchandise Mart (now AmericasMart, the world’s largest single wholesale marketplace), the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, The Westin Peachtree Plaza, and the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, with its “first-of-its-kind” 22-story atrium. From the opening of that groundbreaking hotel in 1967, he made architectural history and won international acclaim.

He received the Exceptional Achievement Award from Georgia Tech in 1986 and an honorary Ph.D. in 2012. In addition, he has been recognized throughout his career with prestigious industry awards such as a lifetime achievement award from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat in 2009, the Silver Medal Award in 1981 from the Atlanta Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) for innovative design, and an AIA Medal in 1978 from the national AIA organization for innovations in hotel design.

Portman helped shape the second half of the 20th century as an artist, an architect, a developer, and an entrepreneur. Notable projects outside of his hometown of Atlanta include Embarcadero Center in San Francisco, Shanghai Center and Tomorrow Square in Shanghai, and Yintai Centre in Beijing. He once famously said, “To create space that enhances the quality of life is architecture’s greatest gift to the community it serves.” He now will have a positive influence on the contributions of generations of young architects to come.



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