Author : Ian Fralick

University : Georgia Institute of Technology

Status : MArch, 2013

Advisor : Jennifer Bonner

Title : Portmanteau

Portmanteau is a critical composition and juxtaposition of unique aspects of Atlanta’s  identity. Deployed within an existing and extensive interconnected framework of John Portman buildings, Portmanteau is more than the world’s first international quarantine facility, it is an guide for understanding  the city as well as provocative lens through which modern notions of urbanity, scale, and the evolution of the city may be approached.   

This project approaches Atlanta from the outside, specifically from an international perspective. Three major components of Atlanta’s global identity are Hartsfield Jackson International Airport (the busiest in the world), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (a global leader in the treatment and containment of contagion) and John Portman (inventor of the super atrium hotel).

Atlanta can be reached from nearly any point in the world. As an international hub, Atlanta important for global travel.  Atlanta has no ports and relies on international flight as a physical connection with the world.

Through Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport’s concourses, monorail system, and Atlanta’s MARTA system, tourists arrive in John Portman’s complex of buildings in downtown Atlanta.

The four most important buildings in the Portman Complex are the Hyatt Hotel, the Marriott Marquis Hotel, the Westin Hotel, and Suntrust Plaza.  

The Hyatt is the first instance of a ubiquitous urban type; the atrium hotel. Divorced from its surroundings, the atrium was a response to urban decline in the mid 1900’s. The Hyatt turned away from a city deemed too dangerous for urban life.

The atrium of the Marriott is the tallest atrium in Atlanta. Until the construction of Burj Dubai, it was the tallest atrium in the world. The atrium divorces itself from the street and offers few views to the outside.

The Westin Hotel, opened in 1976, rises 73 stories over Atlanta. It contains roughly 1,100 rooms and features a revolving restaurant on the top three floors. This restaurant provides a dramatic, but intensely disassociated view of Atlanta.  

The Suntrust Plaza Building, acquired and developed by John Portman, is the current home of John Portman and Associates. After construction, most of the newly built skyscraper sat empty with Portman’s firm headquartered in the top floors.  

A key component in the John Portman Complex of buildings are skybridges. These pedestrian walkways provide direct access between buildings and bypass the sidewalks below. By connecting building to building, skybridges separate buildings from streets and thus, people from city.

Sky bridges, once a reaction to dangerous streetscapes caused by white flight and urban decline, now contribute to the same conditions for which they were once an escape. Removing people from the street does improve safety, but at what cost? Few people on the sidewalks means fewer eyes on the street. The collective safety of community evaporates as the streets empty. The cycle becomes vicious and the cure becomes the disease.

While sky bridges present challenges to contemporary urban life they do suggest an advantage. These sky bridges utilize the space between buildings, a space usually reserved for streets and sidewalks at ground level. By building in this space, a new level of density can be achieved. In the portman complex, these bridges are only used for pedestrian traffic.  

A quarantine facility must be a medical facility capable of treating thousands of patients with little warning. It must house patients in a comfortable environment and promote emotional as well as physical health. Isolation and quarantine can take a long time. Families must be allowed to remain together. Social interaction should be possible. It must function as a research facility in order to stay ahead of rapidly evolving illness in a world of global travel. All this, while remaining physically isolated from the outside world.

Dissecting and recombining critical sections of the Portman Complex using four simple rules produces a new taxonomy.

The evolved genome carries with it new formal and spatial relationships that can  be mined for architectural opportunity. Each new phenotype is carefully described by its constituent parts and categorized by type.

Using this combinatoric process a great variety can be evolved from a relatively small seed population. Unexpected conditions are allowed to develop within a controlled and well defined system.

The results of the combinatoric exercise can be used individually by accepting them at the same scale as the buildings from which they evolved. A quarantine facility by definition contains two populations that must remain distinct. A quarantine population, which has come into contact with contagion but is not necessarily symptomatic, must be kept separate from an isolated population of people who are ill. This bifurcated program is a natural fit for the double atrium of each of the newly generated portmanteaus.

By rejecting the scale of the existing buildings and using only the skybridge sections, the spaces between buildings can be used. Instead of adding another building to the Portman Complex, the skybridge sections are used to tie the existing buildings together in a more robust way and unites them as a quarantine facility.  The Portman Complex is quarantined from the city itself. By clarifying the ambiguous relationship these buildings once had with the street, the city will be able heal around the Portman Complex. Visitors will no longer have to choose between visiting Atlanta or a parallel universe of Portman interiors. The quarantine facility , as a first of its kind, will also bolster the aspects of Atlanta’s identity that it is known for internationally.

Taken to the other extreme, the quarantine facility becomes dominated by atria. Super atrium yields hyper atria. In a world of  extreme projects such as CCTV in China or mega skyscrapers such as Burj-Dubai in the middle east, this proposal is an evolution of the atrium and an extension of modern ideas of size and quality.