Portman's Industry: Building Downtown Atlanta in the 1970s
Kingston University London, London, UK
In the context of massive social upheaval, disinvestment, and major infrastructural impositions on American downtowns, this paper will consider the emergence of the large-scale, mixed-use development in the 1970s. In particular, it will focus on Atlanta’s Peachtree Center, designed and developed by John Portman and Associates. The basic narrative of Portman’s combination of architecture and property development is well-known from Portman’s own account of it in his 1974 book The Architect as Developer. And his signature atrium hotel, three of which are part of the Peachtree Center development, is either praised as providing a new model for urban space, or maligned for its anti-urban characteristics. Yet what is not well-enough understood in this polarised debate is the combination of financial, political and planning mechanisms which made Peachtree Center’s atriums and skybridges particular kinds of politico-economic objects in the emergence of what has been called the neoliberal city. This paper will chart the development of Peachtree Center in the 1970s to illuminate a more general picture of the changing nature of urban governance at this time. It will show how this context shifts an understanding of urban development beyond the personal narrative of the city-builder or architect-developer.