Mexico-born architect and urban designer Paola Aguirre Serrano set up Borderless Studio in 2016 in Chicago – and was joined by Illinois native Dennis Milam in 2019. Now, with offices in their home base and soon one in San Antonio, Texas, the duo lead a practice of five centred on ‘interdisciplinary projects, and connecting communities to design processes’.

The design and research studio is adept at looking at the intersections between art, architecture, urban design, infrastructure, landscape, planning and civic participatory processes – a skill the team put to good use in their varied projects. 

Borderless Studio: ‘invested in spatial justice and equity’

Paola Aguirre Serrano and Dennis Milam of Borderless Studio
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 we try to balance commissioned work and self-initiated projects that enable us to be responsive to the communities that we work with,’ says Aguirre.

‘Our practice is invested in spatial justice and equity – and we often prioritise working with organisations, groups and businesses working with or located in communities of colour.’

Exhibit Columbus installation by Borderless studio
Exhibit Columbus installation. Photography: Hadley Fruits

Borderless’ body of work is expansive, for such a young practice. It spans a women-owned and Black-owned business storefront in Bronzeville, Chicago, focused on health and wellness services and products, called Haji Healing Salon; an outdoor pavilion inspired by temporary markets, weaved canopies and hyperbolic surfaces for the Chicago Architecture Biennial 2021; an open air installation for Exhibit Columbus 2019; a number of master plans; and Creative Grounds, a platform for actionable research to bring visibility to the closure of nearly 50 public schools concentrated in the West and South Sides of Chicago, flagging up issues of collaborative agency and social infrastructure. 

interiors of HAJI Healing Salon by borderless studio
Haji Healing Salon. Photography: Aveh Studio

Indeed, the idea of the collective is central in Borderless’ approach and a recurring theme in all its projects. ‘We think the architecture field is missing more approaches that consider collectiveness and generosity as driving values,’ say the team. ‘The dominant narrative of architecture has been centred in individualistic efforts, and the single creative figure when we know how collective it is in practice – from ideation to implementation.’

Aguirre is a tireless campaigner of collective efforts and collective power – she is also co-founder of City Open Workshop (2016) and Design Trust Chicago (2020). The team often works with public agencies, city departments of planning or housing, and community-based organisations, aiming to instigate change and raise awareness for their goals. 

04_Buena Vida project Illustration by Borderless
Buena Vida project in development. Illustration: Borderless

The future seems bright for the studio. Aguirre and Milam are currently in the process of getting their San Antonio base up and running, from which they hope to engage more with border region communities, and be closer to Agguire’s hometown of Chihuahua. A public housing redevelopment in the border region is also in the pipeline, along with Chicago based schemes that seek to ‘broaden the possibilities and role of public art and public space in revitalisation in communities of colour.’ §

HAJI Healing Salon by borderless studio
Haji Healing Salon. Photography: Aveh Studio