Posted: October 01, 2012
Executive edge: Amy Burkett
Denver architect finds fulfillment in Middle East projectsLynn Bronikowski
For Amy Burkett, principal of Denver-based Burkett Design, the chance of a lifetime began with a voice mail from a world away.
The American University of Afghanistan was awarded $5 million to build the International Center for Afghan Women’s Economic Development and in a national search was pursuing Burkett, as a women-owned firm, to do the design.
"There was no doubt in my mind that I had to do it," Burkett said. "To me, it was a dream project – a combination of being in the Middle East; it’s architecture; and it’s about helping women. You can’t have a more powerful project than that."
Although Burkett travels with security, she had no hesitation about visiting Kabul. She’s been there six times and will attend the grand opening in December.
As part of her research, Burkett interviewed women students to try to understand their goals and hear their family stories.
"From an oppression standpoint, women weren’t allowed to go to school and had to stay covered," Burkett said. "But you walk onto the American University campus, and it’s an oasis. There’s even a radio station because this project is meant to influence women throughout the country, and one of the best ways to communicate is through radio."
She was heartened to see girls from an orphanage playing soccer together.
"It touched my very soul," Burkett said. "That’s the generation that will continue to press for change and demand it."
Burkett is not new to international projects, having worked in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Australia and Ethiopia. The firm was recently selected to do master planning in Iraq and operates an office in Dubai where Burkett spends 25 percent of her time. She has plans to open two offices in Saudi Arabia.
"Our international work is triggering our growth right now," said Burkett, 52, who employs 25 and plans to hire more. "It’s rejuvenating to get new blood and new ideas in here."
A native of Cleveland, Burkett was inspired to pursue a career in architecture at age 7 when she visited the Expo ’67 World’s Fair in Montreal.
"I was completely mesmerized by the pavilions, and I can picture them like it was yesterday," said Burkett, whose favorite toys were Lincoln Logs and Legos. "From then on I knew that’s what I wanted to see and do."
She earned her architectural degree from Arizona State, where she met her husband, Rick, who is an architect with the firm. The couple loved skiing and moved to Colorado.
After working for both a large international firm and a boutique firm, she set her sights on operating her own firm, which she opened in 1990.
"It’s been a great opportunity to create an environment for others to fly and expand what they do and where we can extract as much creativity and passion out of them," she said.
A friend who was working for a big developer in Dubai suggested she test the market. After doing market research and building relationships, she opened the company’s Dubai office, focusing on medical buildings and a large hotel project.
"It’s like the center of the world there," said Burkett. "They’re very big-picture oriented. They don’t have limitations in their thought processes and really admire and appreciate having people from the U.S. work with them."
Back home, Burkett is a member of the board of directors of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.
"I have this internal mission of exposing Denver to the world and inspiring other businesses to work internationally."
Lynn Bronikowski is a freelance writer in Denver.