When Niles Bolton imagined how large his firm would get, he expected some 17 employees and a handful of partners. Today, Niles Bolton Associates has that many partners and over a 100 employees. (Office parties are a lot harder to organize.)
We caught up with Niles over lunch recently to profile the man
who built one of the largest Atlanta architectural firms and who personally has deep roots
in the city's storied commercial real estate market. A Georgia Tech grad (like his father before him), he served in the Vietnam War (as part of the Army Corps of Engineers), and then began his design career at Heery & Heery Architects (now Heery International) under George Heery.
But by the time 1975 rolled about, Niles says he decided to venture out on his own. "It was bad economic times, but I decided if I could make it then, I could make it any time."
One of Niles' first assignments was to design the former Fox & Hounds restaurant in Buckhead. But his little firm really took off after Niles was tapped by John Williams
, whose firm, Post Properties, was growing by leaps and bounds in Atlanta's early apartment boom.
After that, multifamily projects
became a regular feature at the firm, including with Trammell Crow Residential (working with the famed Ron Terwilliger,
right), and even helped redevelop
Merchant's Walk after it clawed out of bankruptcy in the 1970s.
Niles Bolton though became an international name
during the 1996 Summer Games, when the firm was designed the Olympic Village apartments
on North Avenue (now part of Georgia Tech student housing). It was a project rife with challenges
—answering to nearly two dozen government agencies and other orgs involved (including the State of Georgia, the Board of Regents, and neighborhood groups, which makes him the king of playing limbo with red tape). Niles says many of the projects for the Olympics didn't wow many people at the time: "Architectural critics panned Atlanta because it wasn't earth-shattering designs
." He says that's because the State of Georgia was very measured in ensuring it produced a break-even situation
from the projects instead of incurring major debt due to Olympic preparations.
Today, Niles Bolton is still heavily involved in major multifamily developments
across the country, including designing Ambling's new student housing projects near Georgia Tech (above) and Georgia State, and recently completed the designs on the $239M Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
student housing complex. With two grown kids, Niles says he lives, breathes, and eats
architecture. "My wife will tell me until I get some hobbies, I can't retire
," he jokes. But now he does travel more for pleasure than in the past, having recently toured the countries of Georgia and Bulgaria on the Black Sea. "I don't want a second home.
I'd rather take off and go somewhere."