For the Serpentine Pavilion’s 20th Anniversary, Architect Sumayya Vally Built an Ideal Meeting Place for Perfect Strangers—See It Here

Jun 8, 2021

After a year’s delay, London’s Serpentine Galleries have unveiled the latest iteration of the summer architectural pavilion.

Designed by up-and-coming architecture studio Counterspace, which is led by architect Sumayya Vally, it is the 20th pavilion to be mounted in the green space of Kensington Gardens in Hyde Park.

With its unveiling, the 30-year-old architect—the youngest to receive the commission—has joined a long line of leading practitioners including Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, and Jean Nouvel.

The temporary pavilion will be on view from June 11 through October 17.

In a statement, Vally said the pavilion “is centered around amplifying and collaborating with multiple and diverse voices from many different histories with an interest in themes of identity, community, belonging, and gathering.”

Serpentine Pavilion 2021 designed by Counterspace, Interior View. ©Counterspace Photo: Iwan Baan.

The Johannesburg-based architect has taken design inspiration from public gathering spaces across London, from mosques and other places of worship, to open-air markets, restaurants, bookshops, and libraries. 

Vally has also extended the commission outside the plush setting of Kensington Gardens by installing four fragments of the pavilion in different locations across London (New Beacon Books in Finsbury Park, one of the first Black publishers and booksellers in the UK; the Tabernacle, a multipurpose community space in Notting Hill; the Albany arts hub in Deptford; and Valence Library in Barking and Dagenham) to create new gathering spaces.

The pavilion also presents a commissioned program foregrounding the stories and sounds of lost spaces around London. Called Listening to the City, it includes works by artists including Ain Bailey and Jay Bernard.

Serpentine Pavilion 2021 designed by Counterspace, Interior View. ©Counterspace Photo: Iwan Baan.

To mark the anniversary of the  commission, and in response to Counterspace’s approach to architecture, the Serpentine has announced a new £100,000 ($140,000) fellowship program to support artists called Support Structures for Support Structures.

The funds will support up to 10 London-based artists and collectives working at the intersection of art, politics, and community practice with unrestricted grants of at least £10,000 ($14,000). The recipients, to be announced in July, will also form the beginnings of a network for support, development, and mentoring. 

“The spirit of community that has carried us as an institution throughout such a challenging year is the same that we hope to enliven this project,” Serpentine artistic director Hans Ulrich Obrist and chief executive Bettina Korek said in a joint statement. “Here’s to a new chapter.”