An All-female South African Architecture Studio Will Build the Serpentine Pavilion 2020 in London

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Johannesburg-based practice Counterspace, directed by the all-woman team of Sumayya VallySarah de Villiers and Amina Kaskar, have been commissioned to build the Serpentine Pavilion 2020.

The three architects are the youngest ever to handle the internationally renowned project, with each of them turning 30 this year. Besides running their studio, each of the ladies hold teaching positions, with Amina Kaskar lecturing at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), while Sumayya Vally and Sarah De Villiers both teach at the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Johannesburg (UJ).

Amina Kaskar, Sumayya Vally and Sarah de Villiers of Counterspace

Using both innovative and traditional building techniques, their studio’s design will be based on gathering spaces and community places around the city, folding London in to the Pavilion structure in Kensington Gardens, and extending a public programme across London.

The shapes of the Pavilion are created from a process of addition, superimposition, subtraction and splicing of architectural forms, directly transcribed from existing spaces with particular relevance to migrant and other peripheral communities in London. The Pavilion will include moveable small parts that will be displaced to neighbourhoods across London. Following community events at these locations, the parts will be returned to the structure, completing it over the summer.

Employing a mix of low-tech and high-tech approaches to sustainability, the Pavilion will be constructed from a variety of materials, including custom K-Briq-modules and cork provided by Amorim. K-Briqs are made from 90% recycled construction and demolition waste and are manufactured without firing, with a tenth of the carbon emissions of normal bricks.

“The pavilion is itself conceived as an event — the coming together of a variety of forms from across London over the course of the Pavilion’s sojourn. These forms are imprints of some of the places, spaces and artefacts which have made care and sustenance part of London’s identity. The breaks, gradients and distinctions in colour and texture between different parts of the Pavilion make this reconstruction and piecing together legible at a glance. As an object, experienced through movement, it has continuity and consistency, but difference and variation are embedded into the essential gesture at every turn. Places of memory and care in Brixton, Hoxton, Hackney, Whitechapel, Edgware Road, Peckham, Ealing, North Kensington and beyond are transferred onto the Serpentine lawn. Where they intersect, they produce spaces to be together.”

Sumayya Vally, Lead Architect Counterspace

On its 20th anniversary, more than ever, the Serpentine Pavilion will be a place for debate and new ideas.  A live programme running throughout the summer connects to the Serpentine’s ambitious multi-platform project Back to Earth and sets out to explore questions such as: how can architecture create a space where we are all linked, not ranked? How can architecture promote wellbeing? Can a structure evolve and change together with the environment?

The pavilion is scheduled to be open from June to October.

“We are thrilled to be working with Counterspace on our 20th Pavilion in our 50th anniversary year. The idea of working with different communities is very important for us and Counterspace’s proposal does this in a remarkable way; we were totally convinced by the social dimension of their practice. They bring an African perspective, an international perspective but they are working with locations and communities right here in London and their Pavilion design is inspired by that work. In everything the Serpentine does we want to make those connections between artists, architects and communities wherever they are.”

Hans Ulrich Obrist,  Artistic Director, Serpentine Galleries .