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Serpentine Pavilion 2020: youngest ever architects chosen for summer showstopper

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The Serpentine Gallery has chosen the all-woman team which leads South African practice Counterspace to design its annual summer pavilion

The firm’s three directors, Sumayya Vally, Sarah de Villiers, and Amina Kaskar were all born in 1990 and founded their Johannesburg-based studio in 2015.

The trio will design the 20th temporary structure for the site in London’s Kensington Gardens as part of the Serpentine Gallery’s yearly pavilion programme.

Previous winners of the commission include Zaha Hadid (2000), Toyo Ito (2002), Frank Gehry (2008) and Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA (2009).

Last year the pavilions experimental Japanese architect Junya Ishigami hit the headlines after it emerged the award-winning practice uses unpaid interns at its Tokyo studio.

This year’s pavilion promises to be one of most sustainable to date and will be built from a variety of materials including cork and modules of K-Briqs – bricks made, without firing, from 90 per cent recycled construction and demolition waste. K-Briqs are understood to produce a tenth of the carbon emissions of normal bricks.

Based on ‘gathering spaces and community places around the city’, the Counterspace’s concept also aims to extend the reach of the summer show beyond Kensington Gardens to create a ‘public programme across London’.

The pavilion will include ‘moveable small parts’ which will appear as local community events before being ‘returned to the structure, completing it over the summer’.

Describing the the form and shape of the pop-up structure Pavilion, the practice said: ‘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.’

Vally, lead architect on the project, said: ’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.

The pavilion is itself conceived as an event

‘As an object, experienced through movement, it has continuity and consistency, but difference and variation are embedded into the essential gesture at every turn.’

She added: ’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.’

The practice was chosen by a panel which included Serpentine Galleries artistic director Hans Ulrich Obrist, its new chief executive Bettina Korek, architect David Adjaye, writer Lesley Lokko, Aecom’s former global engineering head David Glover, the Serpentine’s own head of construction and buildings Julie Burnell, and the project’s curator, Natalia Grabowska.

Obrist said: ’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.

He added: ’This year, our art and architecture programmes will be closely integrated. At the heart of the Pavilion will be the programme of events, performances, debates, discussions and symposia linked to Back to Earth, a landmark project which invites artists’ responses to climate emergency.’

The pavilion will be open every day from 11 June until 11 October.

Counterspace: biography

The practice is a Johannesburg-based collaborative architectural studio, undertaking predominantly architectural projects, community engagement, exhibition and installation conceptualisation and urban research and design.

Counterspace is inspired by its location – Johannesburg – and aims to work with developing design expression particularly for Johannesburg and the continent – through urban research, publications, installations and architecture. Counterspace has been involved in a number of research, graphic and immersive design projects with national-scale stakeholders, local architects and universities in South Africa; in addition to various cultural architectural projects in rural and urbanized South Africa, and internationally.

The practice occupies a space adjacent to academic practice, with Sumayya leading Unit 12 at the Graduate School of Architecture, Johannesburg, Sarah currently leading Unit 18 at the same institution, and Amina leading the Housing Ecologies studio at the University of the Witwatersrand Postgraduate Architecture School.

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Amina Kaskar, Sumayya Vally and Sarah de Villiers of Counterspace.

Source: Photographed by Justice Mukheli in Johannesburg, 2020. © Counterspace

Amina Kaskar, Sumayya Vally and Sarah de Villiers of Counterspace.

Sumayya Vally (b 1990, South Africa) has an obsession with Johannesburg. Her work around narrative, identity and memory in the city have admitted her into a host of conceptual and investigatory projects, including a position as assistant curator and film producer for La Biennale di Venezia 2014 (South African Pavilion). Sumayya has recently been selected as a finalist for the Civitella Ranieri Foundation architecture residency prize (2019) and was a finalist for the Rolex Mentorship and Protege award (2018/2019). She currently teaches at the Graduate School of Architecture, as Unit Leader of Unit 12, which focuses on finding design expression for issues of identity and contested territory.

Amina Kaskar (b 1990, South Africa) has a strong interest in themes of gender, migration, ethnography and systematic networks and processes. In 2017, Amina was awarded the Vlir-ous Scholarship to undertake a second Master’s in Human Settlements at KU Leuven, Belgium. Her work includes investigating spaces for arrival infrastructure for migrant communities and refugees in the Brussels North Quarter. Her advanced Master’s also dealt with issues around socio-ecological landscape urbanism, specifically focused within the Gulf of Guayaquil, Ecuador. She is also a CETA associate lecturer in the Wits School of Architecture and recently ran the Advanced Design Studio Elective for the Honours program at Wits, entitled Housing Ecologies.

Sarah de Villiers (b 1990, South Africa) is interested in spatio-economic practices, as well as elements which involve ‘otherness’ – particularly practices which embed themselves as unexpected systems, defying logics of surrounding scale, time, accessibilities, identity or broader policy environments. She has taught for three years at the Graduate School of Architecture, UJ within Unit 14: Rogue Economies, concerned with emergent post-apartheid urban economies in Johannesburg, and currently leads Unit 18, Hyperreal Prototypes together with Dr Huda Tayob which circumscribes notions of origins, the post-fake era and authenticity in architectural production.

The Serpentine Pavilion history

  • 2020 Counterspace
  • 2019 Junya Ishigami
  • 2018 Frida Escobedo
  • 2017 Diébédo Francis Kéré
  • 2016 BIG - Bjarke Ingels
  • 2015 SelgasCano
  • 2014 Smiljan Radic
  • 2013 Sou Fujimoto
  • 2012 Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei
  • 2011 Peter Zumthor
  • 2010 Jean Nouvel
  • 2009 Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, SANAA
  • 2008 Frank Gehry
  • 2007 Olafur Eliasson and Kjetil Thorsen
  • 2006 Rem Koolhaas and Cecil Balmond with Arup
  • 2005 Álvaro Siza and Eduardo Souto de Moura with Cecil Balmond, Arup
  • 2004 MVRDV with Arup (un-realised)
  • 2003 Oscar Niemeyer
  • 2002 Toyo Ito and Cecil Balmond with Arup
  • 2001 Daniel Libeskind with Arup
  • 2000 Zaha Hadid
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