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In memoriam: James Porter, 72

Alum’s firm designed expansion of the USC School of Social Work building and created master plan for renovating the library at the USC Gould School of Law

James Porter obit
James Porter launched his firm's international offices in Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai. (Photo/courtesy of Altoon + Porter)

James Porter ’66, an esteemed alumnus of the USC School of Architecture who headed major building projects around the world, died July 15 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 72.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on Aug. 19 at All Saints Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills.

A leader in the profession for many years, he will be missed greatly by so many in the architectural community and across Los Angeles.

Qingyun Ma

Porter was a founding partner of the Los Angeles firm Altoon + Porter in 1984 and worked there for nearly three decades. Prior to that, he practiced in the offices of Frank Gehry and Charles Kober Associates, working at both firms with future business partner Ronald Altoon ’68. At the time of his death, Porter was working at Gehry Technologies, an architectural consulting firm.

From music to making buildings

Porter began his professional life as a trumpet player, playing in the Lawrence Welk Champagne Music Makers television orchestra during college. He turned to architecture, he told USC Trojan Family in 2004 so he wouldn’t have to travel all the time. Ironically, he ended up spending years traveling around the world overseeing architecture projects.

At USC, he studied under Pierre Koenig of Case Study Houses fame, and Alfred Caldwell, the last of the Prairie School landscapists. It is also where he met his wife, Faith Porter ’64, MFA ’66, an acclaimed artist in ceramics, art jewelry and assemblage who is a member of the Board of Councilors of the USC Roski School of Art and Design. She survives him, as do sons Damon ’89 and Arran, two daughters-in-law and six grandchildren.

On the USC campus, the Altoon + Porter firm designed the expansion of the USC School of Social Work building and created the master plan for renovating the library at the USC Gould School of Law. The firm also sponsored a student intern program for USC Architecture students who worked at the firm part time during their last year of college.

Porter was loyal to the School of Architecture, answering the call whenever needs and opportunities could be joined, and he fully encouraged a firm-wide engagement with the school and the USC Architectural Guild.

“Jim was a longtime friend of the school and a committed Trojan,” said Qingyun Ma, dean of USC Architecture. “A leader in the profession for many years, he will be missed greatly by so many in the architectural community and across Los Angeles.”

A global presence

Porter was an international architectural presence, launching Altoon + Porter’s Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai offices. In addition to projects in those cities, the firm’s portfolio included major buildings in Indonesia, Taiwan, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Australia and Guangzhou, Nanjing, Qingdao and Wuhan, China.

Under Porter’s project management leadership, the firm completed work on the historic Engine Co. No. 28 and Grand Avenue Urban Design Plan, Los Angeles; Queen Ka’ahumanu Center and Waikiki BeachWalk, Hawaii; Al Mamlaka at Kingdom Centre, Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; First City Department Store, Taichung, Taiwan; Marina City, Qingdao, PRC; Central World, Bangkok; and Sengkang and Buangkok subway stations in Singapore.

With his keen interest in effective and efficient practice and project management, Porter created a “Collaboration Matrix” which carefully crafted responsibilities between architectural firms working collaboratively on the same project. Altoon + Porter collaborated with architect colleagues more than 70 times on projects in more than 40 countries. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) adopted a version of this contract format based upon Porter’s pioneering collaboration concept.

Recognizing this contribution, his AIA College of Fellows nomination package stated: “Jim Porter has pioneered collaboration techniques for over 30 years and has mentored architects who have adopted his innovative contract documents for project delivery, resulting in projects in partnership with firms nationally and globally.”

Porter lectured on global design practice for the AIA California Council, Urban Land Institute and International Council of Shopping Centers.

Civic and cultural ties

He served on several of the Urban Land Institute’s national councils as well as the institute’s Los Angeles District Council Advisory Board. Within the greater Los Angeles community, Porter was well known in cultural circles. He participated as a founder of the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles, was a member of the Los Angeles Headquarters City Association Executive Board, the Los Angeles Music Center Fraternity of Friends and many other cultural and civic organizations.

Altoon described his colleague and business partner of 35 years this way: “Jim was an ever-professional collaborator, confident and supportive as we challenged ourselves to exceed our own expectations. He provided great ballast to our tall ship as we sailed forth to build a global practice. Jim’s steady voice and wise counsel will be missed.”

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