Theme: Designing with Compassion

Every summer London’s Serpentine Galleries present a temporary public pavilion in Kensington Gardens designed by a ground-breaking architecture studio. As one of the most prestigious design commissions in the world, the Serpentine Pavilion is a feather in the cap of any architect, and previous pavilion designers have included world-famous names like Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry and Rem Koolhaas. In a historical feat, the 20th anniversary pavilion will be brought to life by our very own Johannesburg architecture studio Counterspace, making the architect, Sumayya Vally, the youngest person ever to be awarded this commission (she turns 30 this year). She centred its design around migrant and peripheral communities, and the spaces in which they gather around London. As a collaborative architecture studio, Counterspace has, in its five years of operation, worked on various projects that delve into community engagement, showing a side to architecture that isn’t just about bricks and mortar. It has taken this line of investigation into its design for the Serpentine Pavilion, forming it around gathering areas in places such as Brixton, Hoxton, Hackney, Whitechapel, Edgware Road, Peckham, Ealing and North Kensington. Architectural forms transcribed from such locations will be used to create the pavilion, bringing to it imprints that have made care and sustenance part of London’s identity. “Examples include the Centerprise publishing house and the West Indian Gazette headquarters,” says Vally – lead architect on the project – of the places that she has included in the dialogue. “It is my hope that the pavilion will foster moments of connection, contemplation and community for visitors from varying backgrounds. “Architecture is complicit in separating, othering, excluding,” she adds, acknowledging that her discipline can also be used to extract exactly the opposite, which is her wish for the Serpentine Pavilion. “Architecture that moves me most is architecture that makes an offering about the human condition and about people; that facilitates and has something to say about our relationships to each other, and our relationships to territory and place.” Some moveable parts of the pavilion will be taken to the relevant neighbourhoods in London (involving a wider audience in the Serpentine Galleries’ summer events) and then returned to the main structure. “In a sense, the pavilion has a very decentralised methodology,” Vally explains. “This reconfigures my role to something more akin to a co-author, allowing other voices and stories to help shape the pavilion, which I hope will become accessible to more people, and engage with many different disciplines, realms, and forms of dialogue and events.” Previous Counterspace projects include a Pan-African kitchen, conceived as an experience that draws on rituals from the continent, and a project in Johannesburg’s Crown Mines, where it added a migrant kitchen and communal/open-street dining area. The studio is currently working on converting an old Dutch Reformed church in Joburg’s Brixton suburb into a mosque, used by migrants from all over the continent and beyond. Says Vally, “Like previous projects, the methodology for the pavilion is shaped through the lens of a fundamental interest in territory, identity, belonging and trying to understand architecture beyond that which is built.” 

100 Beautiful Things is presented by the V&A Waterfront in celebration of South Africa’s creativity, compassion, ingenuity and resilience. Every week we will be showcasing five amazingly beautiful creative things that make us proud. It is curated in partnership with Platform Creative.