Atlanta Marriott Marquis.
Michael Portman Atlanta Marriott Marquis.

Soaring atriums, lit columns, glass elevators, water fountains—such features have become synonymous with hotels and convention centers. But they are only ubiquitous since architect-developer John Portman, FAIA, almost single-handedly changed the hospitality typology from blah boxes into spectacular spaces. Documentary producer Ben Loeterman, in John Portman: A Life of Building, helps us look with fresh eyes at the architect’s calling cards. Starting with Atlanta’s Hyatt Regency in 1967 (now part of the Atlanta Merchandise Mart), the 87-year-old founder of John Portman & Associates has designed countless hotels and convention centers around the country and the world, including the Bonaventure in Los Angeles, the Embarcadero Center in San Francisco, the Marriott Marquis in Atlanta (shown), and the Shanghai Centre—and has had countless copycats. Although Portman has been criticized for designing introverted buildings that separate guests from their urban surroundings, commendation comes just as freely from critics such as Paul Goldberger and Herbert Muschamp, who famously described Portman’s better buildings as being like “architecture at happy hour.” •