John Portman's Marriott Marquis Atlanta

Added on by Timothy Brown.

It's been twenty years since I last visited Portman's Marriott Marquis in Atlanta and I had, frankly, not given it much thought since. In spite of its many superlatives at the time of completion (1985), the rather disturbing anti-urban approach was the critical context into which I slotted the project. The ungainly massing and clumsy facade articulation also contributed to my failure to look very carefully. At the time, the atrium was so over the top that I just rolled my eyes.

But visiting once again last week I can admit to being floored by the atrium. The property's 1600-some rooms are arrayed around a 143 meter strangely flowing atrium. It's a general concept Portman popularized in a series of mega-hotels, but here the warping space achieves something the others don't. What's most amazing twenty years on is that the atrium is a really tough, severe space. Close cousins would be the collection of brutalist work that mostly pre-dates it. That the Marriott folks are able and willing to resist the decorators' overwhelming urge to 'make pretty' makes me smile.

The complex, like all of downtown Atlanta, is still utterly anti-urban. A sort of wrecked out version of American 70's urban paranoia. But if one's to cocoon oneself within a hotel between meetings, one could do worse than hang out in the atrium.

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