Borderless Studio is a Chicago-based collaborative research and design practice co-led by Paola Aguirre Serrano and Dennis Milam that takes a holistic approach to complex city systems, emphasizing civic engagement and interdisciplinary collaboration as fundamental elements of equitable community design processes. Conceived as a combination design studio and community workshop, Borderless often finds itself at the center of collaborative, community-based projects, addressing issues of social justice, racial equity, shared resources, and neighborhood development. It invests heavily in research and education, drawing expertise from the arenas of architecture, landscape design, community activism, and public service to shape processes and plans that are inclusive of diverse stakeholders and publics.
Aguirre Serrano is an urban designer and educator, and her leadership is widely acknowledged in multidisciplinary urban design, contributing regularly to published writings on the subject, organizing workshops, and teaching at institutions such as the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Washington University. Milam is an architect with wide professional experience including working closely with private clients, developers, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and architecture and engineering offices in the United States, Austria, Middle East and Asia on projects of various scales.
Frame(works) of Resilience
Borderless Studio, an urban design studio and workshop, has spent the last four years organizing Creative Grounds: an initiative to bring visibility to the nearly fifty closed public schools concentrated in the West and South sides of Chicago. Creative Grounds leverages design in service of community self-determination by organizing community-based activations to enable advocacy and collaborative agency. These efforts create spaces to spark imagination about a future for social infrastructure in Chicago that foregrounds shared resources and equitable neighborhood development processes.
Overton Elementary School, located in Bronzeville, was closed by the city in 2013, and bought in 2015 by the Washington Park Development Group. Through collaboration with community residents, teachers, students, youth, designers, and artists, Creative Grounds has transformed the school grounds into a hub for creative work and provided a space for experimentation that lifts up community stories.
For the 2021 Biennial, Frame(Works) of Resilience builds upon the previous work of Creative Grounds to amplify creative initiatives focused on exchange, solidarity, and community care. As part of this project, a new community garden expands on Breaking Ground: The Schoolyard Workshop by Studio BASAR (2019) to serve as an outdoor space for collective learning, gathering, and growing fresh food and a new art court transforms the parking lot. Additionally, as part of this project, the Overton Exchange—a community pop-up market—acts as a platform to share resources and services by organizations, artists, and local vendors through mutual aid stations, exhibitions, workshops, and other activities.
The design of the Overton Exchange is inspired by street markets consisting of temporary ten-by-ten-foot outdoor frames with colorful covers. The canopies of these market structures are woven and create a hyperbolic surface using different vertical connecting points through a scaffolding. The community connections and activations generated through the Exchange in 2021 will be reactivated during the next outdoor season as the Overton Exchange is cultivated as a community incubation space for creativity.