Pieces of London Come Together at Counterspace’s Serpentine Pavilion

After a year-long delay due to the pandemic, the 20th Serpentine Pavilion opens with a community-minded installation by promising young Johannesburg studio Counterspace.

The 2021 Serpentine Pavilion by Counterspace. All photography by Iwan Baan

Counterspace principal Sumayya Vally, who founded the practice in 2015, became the youngest architect commissioned for the Serpentine Pavilion, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. She built the structure, set within London’s lush Kensington Gardens, with an amalgamation of pink, gray, and black architectural forms inspired by “the places, spaces, and artifacts which have made care and sustenance part of [the city’s] identity.” These references include places of worship, restaurants, bookstores, open-air markets, and cultural institutions that are meaningful to diasporic and cross-cultural communities in neighborhoods like Brixton, Hoxton, Hackney, Whitechapel, Edgware Road, Peckham, Ealing, North Kensington, and beyond. 

Many of these community hubs no longer exist, so Vally aims for the pavilion to shed light on their importance and advocate for their protection so more aren’t lost in the future. While the pavilion will reflect these important landmarks, it’ll also travel to them—moveable parts of the structure will transport around the city to encourage impromptu gatherings and act as pop-up spaces for events. A sound program, Listening to the City, by artists such as Ain Bailey and Jay Barnard will connect visitors to the stories and sounds of lost spaces across London. 

“My practice and this pavilion [are] centered around amplifying and collaborating with multiple diverse voices from many different histories, with an interest in themes of identity, community, belonging, and gathering,” Vally says. “This past year has drawn these themes sharply into focus and has allowed me the space to reflect on the incredible generosity of the communities that have been integral to this pavilion. This has given rise to several initiatives that extend the duration, scale, and reach of the pavilion beyond its physical life span. In a time of isolation, these initiatives have deepened the pavilion’s intentions toward sustained collaboration.” 

To mark the commission’s 20th anniversary and nod to Counterspace’s approach to architecture, the Serpentine has announced a $140,000 fellowship program, called Support Structures for Support Structures, to fund up to ten local artists and collectives working at the intersection of art, politics, and community. “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.”

The Serpentine Pavilion will display until October 17. Theaster Gates has been confirmed for next year’s commission.

All Stories