Meet Chicago’s Borderless Studio: Shaking Up Architecture


Chicago Borderless Studio Architects Defend Space Justice

The American Midwest is shaking up the world of architecture. Our profile series, part of our Next Generation 2022 project, explores exciting young studios with bold ideas for a better future. Here we meet Borderless Studio

Mexican-born architect and urban planner Paola Aguirre Serrano created Borderless Studio in 2016 in Chicago. a five-year practice focused on “interdisciplinary projects and connecting communities to design processes”.

The design and research studio is adept at examining the intersections between art, architecture, urban design, infrastructure, landscape, planning and civic participatory processes – a skill the team harnessed. in their various projects.

Borderless Studio: “invested in space justice and equity”

Paola Aguirre Serrano and Dennis Milam of Borderless Studio, photographed by Hugo Yu at the Robey in Chicago

“We approach most of our work as a collaborative process and try to balance commissioned work and self-initiated projects that allow us to be responsive to the communities we work with,” says Aguirre.

“Our practice is invested in spatial justice and fairness – and we often prioritize working with organizations, groups and businesses working with or located in communities of color.”

Exhibition of the installation of Columbus. Photograph: Hadley Fruits

Borderless’s body of work is vast, for such a young practice. It spans a female and black owned business storefront in Bronzeville, Chicago focused on health and wellness products and services called Haji Healing Salon; an outdoor pavilion inspired by temporary markets, woven canopies and hyperbolic surfaces for the 2021 Chicago Architecture Biennale; an outdoor installation for the Columbus 2019 exhibition; a number of master plans; and Creative Grounds, a actionable research platform to give visibility to the closure of nearly 50 public schools concentrated in the west and south sides of Chicago, pointing to collaborative agency and social infrastructure issues.

Haji Healing Salon. Photography: Aveh Studio

Indeed, the idea of ​​collective is central in the approach of Borderless and a recurring theme in all its projects. “We believe that the field of architecture lacks more approaches that consider collective and generosity as driving values,” says the team. “The dominant architectural narrative has been centered on individualistic endeavors and the one creative figure when we know how collective it is in practice – from ideation to implementation. “

Aguirre is a tireless activist for collective efforts and collective power – she is also a co-founder of City Open Workshop (2016) and Design Trust Chicago (2020). The team often works with public agencies, municipal planning or housing departments, and community organizations, with the aim of initiating change and raising awareness of their goals.

The future looks bright for the studio. Aguirre and Milam are currently in the process of setting up and operating their base in San Antonio, from which they hope to engage more with communities in the border region and be closer to Aguirre’s hometown, Chihuahua. A redevelopment of public housing in the border region is also in the works, along with Chicago-based projects that seek to “expand the possibilities and role of public art and public space in revitalizing communities of color.” . §

Haji Healing Salon. Photography: Aveh Studio


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