Serpentine Pavilion 2020/21 designed by Counterspace

Serpentine Gallery Various initiatives in 2020, Pavilion June-October 2021 Free

For the first time since the annual architecture programme was founded 20 years ago, the 2020 Serpentine Pavilion designed by Johannesburg-based practice Counterspace has been extended into a two-year commission.

Counterspace, directed by Sumayya Vally, Sarah de Villiers and Amina Kaskar will collaborate with the Serpentine on a series of off-site and online research projects throughout 2020, which will culminate with the opening of the Pavilion in Summer 2021.

Using both innovative and traditional building techniques, Counterspace’s design will be based on gathering spaces and community places around the city, folding London into 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.

On its 20th anniversary, more than ever, the Serpentine Pavilion will be a place for debate and new ideas. Connecting to the Serpentine’s ambitious multi-platform project Back to Earth, the Pavilion 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 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.

Architect’s Statement

The lead architect on the project, Sumayya Vally of Counterspace, said of the design:

“We’ve always relied on places of gathering to come together and we miss them when they’re gone. COVID-19 has brought the Pavilion themes of community and gathering sharply into focus – allowing us the opportunity to extend and deepen our engagement process over two years. We are excited to launch a set of initiatives that will redefine and celebrate the role of gathering and the construction and preservation of belonging in times of crisis – reversing the original procession, so that a cascade of dialogues, events, programmes, and fragments of the Pavilion will pop-up incrementally in real and digital space over the course of 2020 coming together in 2021 in Kensington Gardens to form Pavilion 20 plus 1.”

“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.”

Bettina Korek, CEO, and Hans Ulrich Obrist, Artistic Director, Serpentine Galleries said:
“Counterspace’s Pavilion has developed in tandem with Back to Earth, our multi-year initiative responding to the environmental crisis. Ecology, community, and other themes of Back to Earth are intrinsic to Counterspace’s practice as well, and these have only grown more meaningful during this time of social distancing and planetary struggle. We are fortunate to have this opportunity to take more time to collaborate with Counterspace and our community partners on their commission. Back to Earth inaugurates our commitment to making “Slow Programming” that expands beyond the conventional limits of museum activity. We are grateful to the architects for their vision and to all our supporters who make it possible for us to continue our work of evolving the Serpentine’s role in a rapidly changing society.”​


Counterspace 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 their 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.

Sumayya Vally (b. 1990, South Africa) carries obsession for 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.


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