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John Portman building at Emory University slated for demolition

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Student center designed by architect known for reinventing Atlanta, often through demolition, will soon be torn down

A three-story postmodern white marble building, with the two main floors elevated above a plaza with columns, and a grand double stair leading up.
The main entry to John Portman’s Dobbs University Center.
Mary Ann Sullivan, Bluffton University

Atlanta is a city constantly in the process of reinventing itself. With its favorite tool being the bulldozer.

Now, Emory University is planning to demolish a postmodern building designed by John Portman — an architect and developer responsible for the demolition of a significant portion of downtown Atlanta to clear space for his now iconic modern buildings.

Oh, the irony.

The Architect’s Newspaper reports the university will tear down the Portman-designed portion of the R. Howard Dobbs University Center, which opened in 1986. In its place will rise a new student center and dining hall featuring all the amenities expected by today’s college students.

Meanwhile, the portion of the building dating to the 1920s will remain as part of the new structure.

While Portman’s building has its shortcomings — lack of windows and an inability to get cooking materials to the third-floor kitchen, etc. — one of the most celebrated portions of the design is its raked dining hall, which overlooks the facade of the old building and is inspired by the 16th Century Teatro Olimpico in Italy.

However, a unique dining hall is hardly a draw for students craving modern amenities.

The classical theater-inspired dining hall.
John Portman & Associates via ArchPaper

The demolition of the structure comes as Emory attempts to please preservationists. Late last year plans were revealed for the adaptive-reuse of the Briarcliff Mansion, a building long owned and neglected by the university.

And for lovers of Portman po-mo, Emory has no immediate plans to get rid of a Portman-designed campus recreation center.