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Architect's 'Cottage' : His Dream a Nightmare to Neighbors

September 19, 1986|DAVID TREADWELL | Times Staff Writer

But, to the dismay of most Sea Islanders, that is exactly what the house has become. T. W. Jones, one of the around-the-clock security guards Portman has hired to keep curiosity-seekers away from the construction, says that on a single day this summer more than 500 people came to see the home, which is in plain view from adjacent side streets and the public beach in front.

Acts as Tourist Guide

"I feel like more of a tourist guide than a security guard," said Jones, who readily points out to inquisitive sightseers features like the huge bronze Picasso statue set on a lofty perch on one side or the 18,100-square-foot concrete sunscreen that was cast in place over the house like a giant arbor and eventually will be planted with cascading greenery.

Among the thousands of visitors was former President Jimmy Carter, a frequent Sea Island guest, who was lured to the site in late 1984 by a giant construction crane that loomed over the area. The crane--110 feet tall with a boom 173 feet long--was of the type ordinarily used on skyscrapers.

Carter was out jogging when he first saw the project. Later, he brought his wife, Rosalynn, and his brother, Billy, and reportedly stayed for about two hours, looking around and asking questions.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday October 4, 1986 Home Edition Part 1 Page 2 Column 2 National Desk 2 inches; 65 words Type of Material: Correction
A Sept. 19 story in The Times incorrectly stated that a home architect John Portman is building for himself at Sea Island, Ga., will have 44,000 square feet of living space and a master bedroom of about 2,000 square feet. According to the architect's organization, the enclosed living area of the house is 12,586 square feet, and the master bedroom, one of six, contains 902 square feet. The organization also says that the house has no atrium or waterfall, as reported.

As an architect, the 61-year-old Portman is no stranger to controversy. When the Atlanta Hyatt Regency, the progenitor of his revolutionary atrium-style hotels, was under construction in the 1960s, hotelier Conrad Hilton said of it: "That concrete monster will never fly." It did, of course, and remains one of the Georgia capital's most popular hotels.

'Disneylands for Adults'

Portman's later hotels, which include the five-tower Bonaventure in Los Angeles and the mammoth Marriott Marquis in Manhattan, have been denounced as "Disneylands for adults." Portman, who believes buildings should be fun, admitted in a 1982 magazine interview that "I don't really object to" that accusation.

But perhaps the harshest indictments of his work are reserved for his mixed-used developments, such as the Peachtree Center in Atlanta and the Renaissance Center in Detroit--massive complexes of hotels, office buildings, restaurants and shops that he refers to as "environments."

Critics have called them "introspective megastructures" that encapsulate all the attractions within fortress-like structures and have a deadening effect on the surrounding environment, particularly the street life.

"They work very well from the inside but not very well on the outside," said Eileen Segrest, executive director of the Atlanta Preservation Center. "I hasten to add, however, that I think Portman has become much more sensitive to the life outside such buildings in recent years."

Oddly enough, Portman's architectural philosophy is based on his love for the lively street life of the great European cities--the sidewalk cafes in Paris, the bustling piazzas in Venice. For the most part, he has tried to create such "neighborhoods" indoors.

"I'm a people watcher," he is fond of saying. "I try to analyze what brings people pleasure and makes them smile. I try to analyze what it is about places like Venice and Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen that makes people happy."

But there are few smiles in Sea Island over his new home.

"Architecture really wants to be a good neighbor to its surroundings and say: 'I respect you,' " said a prominent Atlanta architect who once worked in an office with Portman during their early professional years. "All Portman's house says is: 'Look at me, baby, I've made it.' "

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