Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of London’s Serpentine Galleries and the 20th anniversary of the institution’s celebrated pavilion program, Counterspace — an architecture and research studio based in Johannesburg, South Africa — has been tapped to design the 2020 Serpentine Pavilion.
Established in 2015, the all-female studio — led by Sumayya Vally, Sarah de Villiers and Amina Kaskar — are the youngest architects to develop the temporary structure, which will occupy the grounds of the gallery from June 11 to October 11 of this year. With a portfolio ranging from experimental installations and exhibitions to spatial research and publications, Counterspace describes its practice as being “influenced with ideas towards inclusivity, otherness and the future.”
For the 20th site-specific project (the first being designed by the late Zaha Hadid in 2000), the trio of 29-year-old architects have drawn from the communal spaces populating London’s surrounding neighbourhoods to inform the de-centralized project. “Places of memory and care in Brixton, Hoxton, Hackney, Whitechapel, Edgware Road, Peckham, Ealing, North Kensington and beyond are transferred onto the Serpentine lawn,” explains Vally of the concept. “Where they intersect, they produce spaces to be together.”
Fitting for a project informed by the city, the pavilion will support a series of public programs that activate sites throughout London. “The pavilion itself is conceived as an event — the coming together of a variety of forms from across London over the course of the Pavilion’s sojourn,” Valley adds. “These forms are imprints of some of the places, spaces and artefacts which have made care and sustenance part of London’s identity.”
Through formal techniques of addition, subtraction and superimposition, the intersecting geometries of existing spaces connected to migrant communities will shape the pavilion’s movable parts. According to Vally, “the Pavilion makes this reconstruction and piecing together legible at a glance” as the components – replete with sloping and arched profiles that function as both seating and spatial division – start out dispersed across the city and slowly return to the inset, circular site in Kensington Gardens during the summer.
Once reassembled, the pavilion will also host a series of live programs in conjunction with the exhibition “Back to Earth,” billed as a “landmark project which invites artists’ responses to the climate emergency,” according to Hans Ulrich Obrist, the Serpentine Galleries’ artistic director.
Ultimately, Counterspace’s commission and conceptual direction is indicative of the internationally renowned program’s own transformation over the past two decades, as much has changed in the 20 years since Hadid’s crisp, faceted canopy launched the now annual installation.
Where invitations were once extended to the likes of Jean Nouvel, Daniel Libeskind, Alvaro Siza, Rem Koolhaas, Bjarke Ingels, Herzog & de Meuron and more, there has been a palpable shift away from framing the Serpentine Pavilion as a victory lap for those yet to be given the opportunity to build in the UK. Instead, the pavilion has become a critical platform for emerging practices and new voices (such as Frida Escobedo, Selgas Cano, Diébédo Francis Kéré and now the South African studio) that will shape the landscape of architecture far beyond London in the years to come.
The Johannesburg-based trio are the youngest architects and first all-female team to design the annual structure.