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John Portman’s Peachtree Center is now a Georgia landmark

Architecture East News Other
John Portman's Peachtree Center is now a Georgia landmark. (John Portman & Associates/Clyde May)
John Portman's Peachtree Center is now a Georgia landmark. (John Portman & Associates/Clyde May)

Correction 10/2/17: This article initially stated that the Peachtree Center was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It was added to the the Georgia Register of Historic Places, an initial step in National Register of Historic Places nomination process. 

For most Georgians, the Peachtree Center is a defining feature of Atlanta. A transportation hub, a shopping complex, and public plaza densely thatched in by hotels and office buildings, the Peachtree Center is a point of reference in the downtown area. The buildings within the Center were largely designed by John Portman & Associates from 1961 through 1988, beginning with the Atlanta Furniture Mart and expanding outward. It is the largest mixed-use center in one of the most populated cities in the South. Now it has been added to the Georgia Register of Historic Places, a first step towards possible inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

Spanning 14 blocks, the Peachtree Center includes the AmericasMart (1957), the Hyatt Regency Atlanta (1967), the Westin Peachtree Plaza (1976), and the Atlanta Marriott Marquis (1985), as well as eight office buildings, retail space, restaurants, and parking garages. Taken together, the complex is a constellation of Portman’s Southern late modernism and exemplifies the developer-architect approach that Portman, now 92, has built.

Visually, the buildings are unified by their precast concrete and reflective plate glass curtain wall panels, as well as poured-in-place concrete elements. Though the Center is criticized by contemporary planners for the 24 suspended glass catwalks that connect buildings but remove pedestrian traffic (and commerce) from the street, the mixed-use, all-in-one typology that Portman pioneered was innovative urban planning in its time. The forbidding brutalist architecture of buildings like the Merchandise Mart and the futuristic cylindrical glass column of the Westin Peachtree Plaza are connected by the infrastructure layering them together.

Portman’s chilly glass facades and plummeting interiors have proved irresistible to film and television producers. The Peachtree Center is frequently featured in sci-fi and fantasy TV footage, as well as films set in the future, including The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Walking Dead.

As the site has evolved over the past 50-plus years, it has continually been redeveloped even when the surrounding downtown area was beset by economic change. Per Portman’s plan to design supersize spaces to work at the pedestrian scale, the Peachtree Center is today a busy node of Atlanta’s MARTA (mass transit) system and nearby bus terminal, funneling arrivals into an easily accessible network of restaurants, shops, markets, and more.

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