Reporter: Counterspace's design for the Serpentine Pavilion 2020

A look at Johannesburg-based practice Counterspace's winning commission for the Serpentine Pavilion 2020 – now delayed until 2021

Words by Sophie Tolhurst

The Serpentine Pavilion 2020 was to herald in a year of anniversaries: it is the pavilion scheme’s 20th year, the 50th of the Serpentine Gallery itself, and the 30th birthdays of each of the all-women team from Johannesburg-based practice Counterspace, selected to design this year’s pavilion.

Although the pavilion has now been postponed until 2021, beyond celebrating their birthdays, the team from Counterspace – Sumayya Vally, Sarah de Villiers and Amina Kashar – can celebrate being the youngest ever architects to win the prestigious commission.

Counterspace’s work values community engagement, inclusivity, urban research and intervention. Its design for the 2020 pavilion is inspired by community spaces to be found across London and the support they provide for their users. Citing ‘places of memory and care’ in Brixton, Hoxton, Hackney, Peckham, Whitechapel, Edgware Road, Ealing, North Kensington, lead architect Sumayya Vally describes these spaces having ‘made care and sustenance part of London’s identity’ – something Counterspace is keen to extend to the public space of the pavilion.

Acknowledging the lack of connection between the Kensington site and the wider city, small parts of the pavilion will be dispersed across London, to be returned to the pavilion for its opening. As for how the pavilion itself will be encountered, Vally says: ‘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.’

Though the postponement was necessitated by Covid-19, waiting an extra year will allow for an extended period of time to realise an all-important aspect of Counterspace’s pavilion proposal – that of engagement across London’s communities – before the pavilion finally opens next year.

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