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Counterspace architects to be youngest Serpentine pavilion designers | Art and design


The leaders of an architectural practice based in Johannesburg are to be the youngest people ever to design the Serpentine pavilion.

The commission, to create an experimental temporary structure in Kensington Gardens, is one of the most prestigious architectural events of the year. For two decades, architects have been creating popup spaces which become a place for debates and selfies.

The Serpentine Galleries announced that this year’s architects would be the South African studio Counterspace, which is led by Sumayya Vally, Sarah de Villiers and Amina Kaskar. Each will be 30 this year, making them the youngest to be commissioned in the event’s 20-year history.

Counterspace said their idea was for the pavilion to be based on and inspired by places where people gather across London, particularly migrant and other peripheral communities.





An interior visualisation of Counterspace’s pavilion design.



An interior visualisation of Counterspace’s pavilion design.

Vally 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.”

Those forms would be “imprints of some of the places, spaces and artefacts which have made care and sustenance part of London’s identity”.

Vally said those places included Brixton, Hoxton, Hackney, Whitechapel, Edgware Road, Peckham, Ealing, North Kensington and beyond.

Precisely what will be taken from communities around London will be revealed in June. Vally said there would be breaks, gradients and distinctions in colour and texture which would make the 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.”

Counterspace’s pavilion will be built from a variety of materials which include cork from Amorim, the world’s largest supplier; and K-Briqs, manufactured without firing from 90% recycled construction and demolition waste resulting in a tenth of the carbon emissions of normal bricks.

The pavilion, as well as being a popular free-to-visit tourist attraction, plays host each year to lively programmes of events, performances, debates and discussions. This year they will be linked to a wide-ranging Serpentine project titled Back to Earth, which invites artist responses to the climate emergency.

The pavilion programme will explore questions such as: how can architecture promote wellbeing? Can a structure evolve and change together with the environment? How can architecture create a space where we are all linked, not ranked?

Its opening is also marked annually with one of the most exclusive summer parties of the year, raising funds for the gallery. If you are a celebrity and not on the list, it might be time to have a word with your agent.

In 1994, the party was where Princess Diana wore her “revenge dress”, on the same bombshell night that Prince Charles spoke to ITV about his relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles.





The exterior design for the pavilion.



The exterior design for Counterspace’s pavilion.

The pavilion has often been a platform for star architects to build their first structure in the UK. The list includes the late Zaha Hadid, who built the first pavilion in 2000, Oscar Niemeyer, Rem Koolhaas, Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel and Peter Zumthor ,who in 2011 designed a black box containing a contemplative Piet Oudolf– planted garden.

In more recent years, it has become a showcase for emerging talent such as Frida Escobedo who, in 2018, created a space where visitors could, in the name of art, have a paddle in shallow water. In 2016 Bjarke Ingels’ pavilion, a huge stack of fibreglass boxes, was the most visited architectural exhibition in the world.

Hans Ulrich Obrist, artistic director of the Serpentine, said they were thrilled to be working with Counterspace in the gallery’s 50th year, as well as the 20th for the pavilions.

“The idea of working with different communities is very important for us and Counterspace’s proposal does this in a remarkable way,” he said. “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.”

The Serpentine pavilion 2020 will be open 11 June-11 October

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