In Memoriam: John C. Portman

Architect of the Renaissance Center, John C. Portman passed away at the age of 93 on December 29, 2017. Portman was known for his futuristic concepts and modern designs as he elevated skylines into the 21st century.


Portman was born December 4, 1924 in South Carolina and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. During World War II Portman served in the US Navy and later received a degree in Architecture from Georgia Institute of Technology. By 1953, he started his own company, known today as John Portman and Associates. Choosing the untraditional route, Portman often acted as both developer and architect, allowing him more creative freedom with his work.


Building the GMRENCEN



The Renaissance Center was designed to help modernize downtown Detroit. Portman designed the building to link commercial, retail, residential and cultural components via a riverwalk. This includes pedestrian bridges to connect the activity of Renaissance Center with the activity of the rest of the city.




The installation of the Renaissance Center reignited Detroit’s economy, acted as a tourist attraction, and contributed to the skyline.


The Renaissance Center opened in 1977 and was the tallest hotel building in the world, at the time. The GMRENCEN remains the tallest building in the state of Michigan. It wasn’t until 1996 that the Renaissance Center was purchased by General Motors becoming its world headquarters.


Today the Renaissance Center is home to more than 30 retailers and dozens of restaurants. Between tenants and visitors, more than 14,000 people visit the building each day.


No stranger to pop culture, the GMRENCEN has appeared in several Hollywood films including “Action Jackson” (1988), “Collision Course” starring Jay Leno and Pat Morita (1989), Mickey Rourke’s 2008 crime thriller “Killshot.” The opening scene of “Renaissance Man” shows Danny DeVito driving down Jefferson Avenue for a meeting inside the GMRENCEN, and “Bird on a Wire”, starring Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn, shot a chase scene inside the building.


Futuristic Design



Known for their clean lines and neo-futuristic forms, Portman’s skyscrapers in Atlanta are Hollywood’s “go-to” dystopian film sites. “Insurgent” the second film in the “Divergent” series features sky bridges and rooftops from Portman’s Atlanta Peachtree Center. “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay” highlights the wild atrium of Portman’s Atlanta Marriott Marquis to depict the capital city of dystopian country Panem. The downtown Atlanta skyline is recognizable in the opening credits of apocalyptic “The Walking Dead.”


During Portman’s life he changed skylines, rejuvenated cities, and gave new meaning to the words innovative design. His work is an inspiration and home to many in Detroit. The Renaissance Center is a longstanding symbol of Detroit’s past, present and future and we have John Portman to thank each time we see it grace the Detroit skyline.


What is your favorite feature of the GMRENCEN? Let us know in the comments.

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