John Portman was best known for his large buildings, but his forays into domestic architecture reveal the sensitivity of his design philosophy. That is why these photos of a house in Georgia have been chosen as the imagery of this send-off at towers of ilium. We can remember him as the most successful architect of the 20th century. (This compliment in a back-handed reference to Philip Johnson's comment about Frank Lloyd Wright being the greatest 19th century architect.) In terms of volume, Portman probably outdid all of his peers. In terms of critical acclaim, he was largely ignored--his name is absent from academic discourse, except perhaps as a cautionary tale.
His work has been called "neo-futurism" which in the age of smart-phones and Amazon feels distinctly nostalgic. He indulged in a form of heroic modernism distinguished by muscular shapes, high ceilings, and the occasional drapery of vegetation. His work spoke of indoor commerce, the click of heels across the terrazzo floors of a shopping mall or late nights in a hotel bar. Roger Moore as James Bond will come striding out across that orange carpet to greet us as we sip a vodka martini in the dim light of the atrium.
His career had its ups and downs--mostly ups, for a property developer he both absorbed and transferred financial risks. In the end, he was a good bet, and lenders never consigned his designs to value-engineering. His designs came pre-engineered--suitable for mass production and easy to renovate as stylistic trends shifted.
It will be curious to see if any of his work gets singled out for preservation. Such a tribute might be contrary to the energy of his work. His architecture was the progress of the 20th century, complete with all of its setbacks, from the decline of cities to their rebirths. That he could be imitated successfully is the greatest tribute of all.