From Chihuahua, Mexico to Harvard University: Paola Aguirre on Her Drive for Success
Paola Aguirre is a visionary architect, urban designer, entrepreneur, and educator driven to achieve by her core values of social equity, justice, and community engagement. She is an admirer of fellow architects: Lina Bo Bardi, Italian-born Brazilian modernist architect; Frida Escobedo, Mexican urban design architect and Fernanda Canales, Mexican architect who recently received Monocle’s prestigious 2021 Design Award for best social architect.
Originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, Ms. Aguirre obtained a Master of Architecture in Urban Design from Harvard University Graduate School of Design and a B.A. in Architecture from Instituto Superior de Arquitectura y Diseño de Chihuahua, Mexico. Her professional journey from Chihuahua to Harvard University to Chicago has been driven by risk-taking, the role of collectivism in creating social impact, and her sense of independence.
In 2016, Paola founded Borderless Studio, an independent practice that focuses on creating urban designs integrating the vision of the community, ecological systems, urban mobility and “mixing it up” through interdisciplinary collaboration. Central to Ms. Aguirre’s work is the creation of a practice based on integrity, her guiding core values, and her strong intention in working with communities.
Examples of Ms. Aguirre and Borderless Studio’s innovative work include the following:
Elevated Chicago: Borderless Studio contributed to Elevated Chicago’s initiative and workplan to “develop community-led solutions to underutilized assets in Chicago’s public transit system.” The workplan, developed in collaboration with Foresight Design Initiative, focuses on “four different community groups defined by station(s) Logan Square (Blue), California (Pink), Kedzie Corridor (Blue-Green) and Green Line South.” (Source: www.borderless-studio.com).
Chicago Extra-Large: A map installation located in the parking lot of Anthony Overton Elementary, a former public school in the Southside of Chicago, closed in 2013. “The map showcases neighborhood boundaries as well as the location of schools that closed in 2013, and uses a color-coded legend system to document and inform about their status in the process of redevelopment.” (Source: www.borderless-studio.com).
Chicago Architecture Biennial 2021: Borderless Studio is a contributor to this year’s Chicago Architecture Biennial (CAB), which serves “as a platform for international contributors to showcase their architecture and design innovations.” Opening on September 2021, CAB -The Available City, “considers the social impact of collective spaces in cities and proposes a more inclusive and transparent design process.” (Source: www.chicagoarchitecturebiennial.org)
Paola is an internationally recognized leader who has participated with academic institutions such as the University of Michigan, Illinois Institute of Technology, University of Texas, Arizona State University, and Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey, Mexico. In addition, she currently serves on the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, Metropolitan Planning Council's Land Use and Planning Committee, and the City of Chicago Cultural Advisory Council.
Throughout her professional career, Ms. Aguirre has been driven by her core values to create a holistic, integrated studio with greater transparency and inclusiveness. When asked about what advice she would give others, Ms. Aguirre provided the following guiding principles:
Welcome risk-taking and independence into your professional and personal lives.
Learn the languages and methodologies of other professional disciplines.
Understand your life’s values, overall purpose, and work style.
Whatever your profession, look to collaborate with interdisciplinary teams. Learn from those experiences.
Assemble your team and create personal relationships.
Learn to tell your story.