Being In The World with Michael Bolaños

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Michael Bolaños is the Vice President of the Design and Construction department at Delaware North, one of the largest privately held hospitality and food service companies in the world. Behind this important role, there is a brilliant mind that gives design and architecture values and meaning that go beyond pure functionality and aesthetics.

MiND met him in New York to learn more about his upbringing.

Credits to all photos Delaware North

Michael Bolaños – Credits Delaware North

Born in Mexico City, Bolaños’ career was almost set in stone being the son of an architect and an educational leader. His parents met while his American mother was studying art and Spanish in Mexico, and his Mexican father was already working as an architect. This love turned out to be a large family, where Michael is the eldest of 8 children. Bolaños grew up taking care of his younger brothers and sisters. Nurture is a key element of his upbringing as well as a fundamental value for his family. This aspect will influence and inspire Bolaños also during his education and career, becoming one of the values that encourages his decisions.

What I would tell young people is to travel, live your life and get out from behind the black mirror and see the world. Go away from distractions.

Influenced by the combination of art and architecture in his family, Bolaños grew up interested and fascinated by how things work and go together. He would often time wonder how to make something functional become something beautiful, an approach that goes well with the study of Architecture and Design. However, his first thoughts about the future were on science, precisely Marine Biology.

Nature has always had a big part in Bolaños life, alongside with the concept of sustainability. Both come from his fascination for the natural environment and also from being a boy scout. He was always told that he must leave the camp looking better than when he arrived, and this teaching has stuck to his mind and never left him, not even when he started his studies as an architect. His interest for science and art has been decisive for his future in Architecture. It brings together both functionality and aesthetics, all core elements of Bolaños work through the years.

He started studying Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis, and then took a year off before going to MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in Boston. Regarding this experience, his piece of advice for young people is to be in the world, to travel and take time off.

Credits Delaware North

His interest in the food and beverage field dates back to his graduate thesis on market place and food emporiums, how these places have changed and developed throughout the years and how they changed based on how society and people evolve. From this thesis, Bolaños has started his career in design and spent 8 to 10 years in the design for commercial environments, for shopping centers and especially hotels. He worked in design to learn all the spectrum and understand that part before the construction of a building. After being a project architect, he started working as a field architect and developed a taste for being the builder and the owner’s representative. He is now a supervisor of the design team, but although he hasn’t been a designer since, he has still acquired the skills that help to improve his present role and to ensure that the building will fulfil all the requirements set.

Tenaya Lodge, Fish Camp CA, Yosemite. Credits Delaware North

“I have been an ambassador for design and architecture functionality; to be an advocate for a solution that works for everyone. It goes back to being in the family, finding comprise and look for solution memorable and nurturing solutions that are sustainable, not always beautiful but fit for purpose.” These core values are also Delaware North’s: they create places where people want to go to, where they can create memories and have memorable experiences.

Delaware North is focused on creating great guest experiences, supporting their guests,letting them enjoy their stay and creating places that bring people together. Bolaños is trying to build entertainment places that are fun and at times putting VR in these realities, so people can further enhance their experience. These places are also places where there is great food and purpose. Nowadays there is a lot of mix and match that is reinventing the marketplace, transforming it into areas for living: residence, office, education; new platforms that create engagement and he is working to cover all those edges. But the most important thing of all is that he is trying and wants to be authentic.

Architecture is about understanding the history of the place and how you layers things on that is going to reinforce the purpose and how you can contribute to the story.

Tenaya Lodge, Fish Camp CA, Yosemite. Credits Delaware North

When working with clients, Bolaños thinks that it is important to listen and not jump to conclusions without paying attention to the real needs of the person in front of you. “The more you can get into the situation and feel it as if you are the client, the better off the design will manifest and it will guard against deviations. If you can’t personalize the problem, you will miss it.” It’s fundamental to have an immersive approach to the design of the project, as it will have to be authentic, personalized, but most importantly, it has to embrace the place where it will be set and make that place special, creating a unique experience that the consumer can only have in that specific place and city.

The challenge in his everyday working life is to not reinvent things over and over, but to create the perfect balance between standardization and customization. He would like to be able to figure out what is the essence that can be repeated in scale but at the same time create a brand and a story. Nature also plays a big part in the decisions he makes, because he wants to be able to adapt to the landscape and to be able to use and reuse a building. Not just create objects, put them in a field and leave them there as they are.

Credits Delaware North

Another challenge Bolaños faces is how to focus and be able to control all the different streams of technology and information, trying not to be dominated by them and to not always react to these streams. People’s attention is splintered 24/7 by technology and its demands, so it’s difficult to have one’s attention and it tends to isolate people from one another. This happens especially with young people who should be educated to not be so dependent and to try to create relationships with other peers. It is essential to trust the team and to build strong relationships between the people you work with, as this enables people to find the right solution together. Technology shouldn’t be scary and it shouldn’t isolate people from one another. It should be something that improves one’s lifestyle but without taking the place of physical relationships.

The Turn Titletown. Credits Delaware North

Behind the projects, the work and his career, Bolaños dreams that his “contribution to this world is something that is supportive and that I help to make the camp a little bit better than when I first got here. I hope that I am passing these values to family and friends and that these values will be able to live through them. I want to help them to be better; create something that will continue beyond me and that they will always think of me like someone who tried to make things better”.

We have no doubts Bolaños will fulfill his dream and that Architecture and Design will evolve for the better if everyone applies to the same values he believes in.

Interview by Abramo Manfrotto