Bogota Builder

Zulma Guzman,
President, Urbia SA
Bogota, Colombia


Zulma Guzman's mother forbade her from going into what she considered the frivolous field of architecture when she started college, but now Guzman is about to develop the first student housing project in her hometown of Bogota, Colombia.

An environmental economist by training, Guzman started her career in Bogota's city hall and the Colombian Environment Ministry. But Guzman's passion had always been urban renewal, so in 2007 she started her own planning and redevelopment firm, Urbia.

Guzman knew she needed more training. That summer she took an architecture course at Parsons School of Design in New York City. "My mom was right," Guzman says, "I was horrible. But I learned what architects do and how they do it, and that is important because I now work closely with architects in Bogota."

An MBA in the United States was her next step, while Urbia began laying the groundwork to revitalize two derelict areas in downtown Bogota. Guzman began scouting part-time programs all over the country, but she loved Berkeley. "The atmosphere was amazing, so full of life," Guzman says.

She devoured all the real estate electives possible, and audited architecture classes at Columbia, where she won a real estate competition based on an idea for school housing next to Los Andes University in downtown Bogota. The university is now in the process of approving the project.

"When I started university, no one even thought about leaving their parents' homes," she says. "But Colombia's become Americanized: Kids leave home and many come from other cities. So it makes a lot of sense to have housing there."

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