Counterspace is an inter-disciplinary architectural studio led by Sumayya Vally.
Founded in, and obsessed by Joburg, Counterspace is searching for design expression for the continent –
through research, publishing,
pedagogy, built things and other forms of architecture.

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Material Histories: Sands, soils, recipes and other archives

The granular content of soil, the moulded clay of a fluted utensil, the earth of a communal bakery and the dastasrkhwan, climate change and shifting sands – shifting borders.

Material and ingredients – the stuff of the earth – and their legacies of hybridisation, uproot, movement and endangerment; are an evolving archive of our own stories.

Fragments of data – hard and soft – trace the shifting of species, geographies and practices. A periodic table of land and sea – excavating and underlining potential histories, potential futures.

Active leftovers, quiet histories, silent sovereignties, gradated empires, “new” categorisations, ecological shifts, carceral atlases of colony, politics and resistance. 

The deep fault lines of control and moments of insurgence.

These folding architectures, containing cultural recipes and histories of movement are installed in everyday use in Cairo and Casablanca –  a sandwich wrapper. a falafel house shop-window poster, a tablecloth in the central market for iftar.

Serpentine Pavilion 2020/ 20 Plus 1

Dear Architecture,

In the wake of increased migration,
We exclude.
In the wake of ‘progress’, we’re boldly complacent,
We are violently silent.
In the wake of catastrophe, we are earnestly separate,
We are inclining inward.
In the wake of us drowning in environmental racism,
We have been complicit.

In response, this project looks outward from the Serpentine in order to look inward at London and beyond; to bring in other voices, narratives, histories and futures to the Serpentine.

As a critical take on social sustainability and architectures and institutions of care, this project takes the form of a 4-month-long wake, during which the structure of the pavilion is systematically brought into being from places of community and minority that make London.

The Pavilion will include moveable small parts that will be displaced to neighbourhoods across London. Following community events at these locations, the parts will be returned to the structure, completing it over the summer.

In this pavilion – an engagement with the dis-placement, and re-placement of peoples and place – we acknowledge sites of absence and sites of presence. It is a set of architectures entangled in the contemporary reconfiguration of belonging – 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.

Spaces where, perhaps, you could meet someone.

We’ve always relied on places of gathering to come together and we miss them when they’re gone. COVID-19 has brought the Pavilion themes of community and gathering sharply into focus – allowing us the opportunity to extend and deepen our engagement process over two years. We are excited to launch a set of initiatives that will redefine and celebrate the role of gathering and the construction and preservation of belonging in times of crisis – reversing the original procession, so that a cascade of dialogues, events, programmes, and fragments of the Pavilion will pop-up incrementally in real and digital space over the course of 2020 coming together in 2021 in Kensington Gardens to form Pavilion 20 plus 1.

“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. These forms are imprints of some of the places, spaces and artefacts which have made care and sustenance part of London’s identity. The 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.”
– Sumayya Vally

Folded Skies

18h46, -26.226607, 28.035137

For an instant, a drop of sky lands in the landscape – each an instant in time. Our installation captures colours of the South African light – dawn, dusk, sunsets.

We are inspired by the iridescent qualities of our cities and landscapes – sometimes this is heightened by the chemical compounds in our cities’ mining dust.

We worked with the same pigment compounds (copper, aluminium, cobalt, ferrous) from these dusts to create instances of South African skies – a snapshot of light conditions at different times of the day.

The shapes fold light, perspective and earth into each other, borrowing and disrupting the horizon line as divider between the above and below. Light folds on the reflective faces of the disks in the landscape, producing a blurred enmeshing of up and down, inside and outside, real and unreal.

Brixton Mosque

Choreography, performance, and ritual. A minaret made of light appears only at 5 times in the day.

Allahu Akbar Allahu Akbar. 5 times a day. The church bells used to clang too, 9 o clock Sundays. A cacaphony. A melody. A new set of harmonies. Sunrise. Sunset. The conversion of an old Dutch reformed church into a mosque. A minaret made of light appears only at 5 times in the day.

On Fridays the new street edge is animated. Children climb. Traders trade. People meet. Present and represent. A form emerges, a geometric merge between the old church arches and new parabolic orders, new and old dreamers, wishes, worshippers from two religions and times – the architectures pray together – reveal and conceal, hide and seek, and past, present, future.

Makli Necropolis – Research with Yasmeen Lari

Under the guidance of Yasmeen Lari and Heritage Foundation Pakistan

The capital of three successive dynasties and later ruled by the Mughal emperors of Delhi, Thatta was continuously built and rebuilt from the 14th to the 18th century. Now under threat from environmental degradation, the remains of the city and its necropolis provide insights into the social and political histories and building methodologies of Sindh – from Gujarat and Mughal architecture and Persian and Asian influences.

As part of ongoing research and collaboration with Yasmeen Lari, Heritage Foundation Pakistan and Spiritual Chords South Africa, this restoration project forms part of Yasmeen Lari’s research into zero-carbon building techniques in the region.

Ingesting Architectures: On atmospheric violences

Speculative histories and archaeologies

An ongoing research into dust and ritual as archive. An urban archaeology. Epochs of toxicity. Generational disease and degradation. Eroding, uncovering, revealing new layers of an old, undocumented history. An object becomes host to coral-like formation of turquoise crystals. Incremental growth of yellow sand mountains. Shifting and changing landscapes. A new man-made nature scripted by subterranean gold. Geological conditions, ecologies, life-forms, urban practices, rituals, rites hybridise and mutate. Stories, practices, myths, legends that establish themselves over generations, appearing in quick flashes.

Viewers are invited to construct their own narratives of image and text – snapshots of a new urbanism developing in Johannesburg’s bufferzones. Objects in the petri dishes set in resin – egg shells from a prayer ritual, acid mine crystal formations, fossilised glass bottle caps from the Joburg water company from 1897. A history rising to the surface with the toxic runoffs.The project includes material research into the production of pigments to remove heavy metals from the

Presented in collaboration with Jason Larkin at the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial in 2015/2016 and at the Yokohama Triennale in 2020.