Courtesy Counterspace

The female-led, Johannesburg–based firm Counterspace has been selected to design the 2020 Serpentine Pavilion, making history as the youngest architects to design the annual commission, which is now in its twentieth year. Directed by Sumayya Vally, Sarah de Villiers, and Amina Kaskar, all born in 1990, Counterspace’s design will focus on “gathering spaces and community places” around London using architectural forms “directly transcribed from existing spaces with particular relevance to migrant and other peripheral communities in London,” according to a press release.

Counterspace will use a mix of sustainable materials for the pavilion, such as cork from the Portuguese manufacturer Amorim and custom K-Briq-modules from the Scottish manufacturer Kenoteq, which are made from 90% recycled construction and demolition waste and. Unlike traditional bricks, K-Briqs are not fired which reduces the cabon emissions for their production. Once completed, the pavilion's final structure will be a series of open-air gathering spaces under a flat, oblong roof.

The pavilion will also feature removable elements that the architects will place in different locations around London, extending the pavilion’s reach throughout the city; after community events at each satellite location, Counterspace will return the parts to the pavilion over the summer, slowly completing the structure.

Courtesy Counterspace Amina Kaskar (L), Sumayya Vally (M), and Sarah de Villiers (R) of Counterspace

“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,” said Counterspace’s Sumayya Vally, lead architect on the Serpentine Pavilion project, in the same release. “These forms are imprints of some of the places, spaces, and artifacts which have made care and sustenance parts of London’s identity. The breaks, gradients, and distinctions in color 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.”

Founded in 2015 as a collaborative studio, Counterspace has completed architectural projects, exhibitions, urban research, and urban design projects around the world. The firm’s three leaders focus on academic practice as well, with Vally and de Villiers teaching at the Graduate School of Architecture in Johannesburg, and Kaskar leading the Housing Ecologies studio at the University of Witwatersrand Postgraduate School in Johannesburg. Counterspace joins the renowned architects who have designed the pavilion including Junya Ishigami (2019); Francis Kéré, Hon. FAIA, (2017); and Bjarke Ingels Group (2016).

Courtesy Counterspace

“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,” said artistic director of the Serpentine Galleries Hans Ulrich in the same release. “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.”

This year the Serpentine Pavilion will host community events, including the Back to Earth symposia which will invite artists to engage with climate change. The 2020 Serpentine Pavilion will be open to the public from June 11 to Oct. 11.