No glitzy parties to celebrate 20th annual architecture commission


Source: Counterspace / Iwan Baan

Serpentine Pavilion 2021 designed by Counterspace

 Counterspace’s Serpentine Pavilion has finally completed in Kensington Gardens a year after it was originally due to open.

The 20th Serpentine Pavilion, designed by the Johannesburg-based practice directed by Sumayya Vally, will open on Friday.

Vally was born in 1990, the youngest architect to receive the commission.

Counterspace studio

Source: Counterspace / Serpentine Galleries

Counterspace directors Sumayya Vally, centre, Sarah de Villiers and Amina Kaskar

The pavilion is said to reference the architecture of markets, restaurants, places of worship, bookshops and local cultural institutions that are important to diasporic and cross-cultural communities in neighbourhoods including Brixton, Hoxton, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Edgware Road, Barking and Dagenham, Peckham and Notting Hill.

For the first time the programme extends beyond the park as four fragments of the pavilion are installed in places around London that have been significant to such communities. The partners hosting these fragments are: New Beacon Books in Finsbury Park, one of the first Black publishers and booksellers in the UK; multi-purpose venue and community hub The Tabernacle in Notting Hill; arts centre The Albany in Deptford; and the new Becontree Forever Arts and Culture Hub at Valence Library in Barking and Dagenham, which was established this year to commemorate the centenary of the UK’s largest council housing estate.


Source: Counterspace / Iwan Baan

Serpentine Pavilion 2021 designed by Counterspace

 A programme of events will be held, but the gallery said there would be no glitzy parties this year.

The 20th pavilion sparked controversy for its reported use of 95m3 of concrete for the foundations of a pop-up structure which was described as using recycled and eco-friendly materials above ground when the South African practice was named as its designer in February 2020.

Today the gallery said embodied carbon from the build had been studied in detail and monitored throughout the design and construction process. “Through innovative material selection, and measures to ensure the main structure can be easily dismantled and reused, the result is a carbon-negative pavilion and a positive net outcome,” said new chief executive Bettina Korek. Her predecessor Yana Peel resigned on the eve of the 19th pavilion opening, after what she called a “toxic” lobbying campaign against her husband, Mark Peel, a private equity investor with a majority stake in Israeli surveillance technology firm NSO Group.

This year’s pavilion, engineered by Aecom and David Glover, has been bought by wellness firm Therme Group.


Source: Counterspace / Iwan Baan

Serpentine Pavilion 2021 designed by Counterspace

In April last year the commission was put on ice – or extended, in the words of the gallery – for a year. Counterspace said it would devote the extra year to research projects.

Counterspace was founded in Johannesburg in 2015 as a collaborative architectural studio. Much of its work emerges from research and interdisciplinary arts-based projects and is concerned with inclusivity, otherness and future.

Sumayya Vally said: “My practice, and this pavilion, is centred around amplifying and collaborating with multiple and diverse voices from many different histories; with an interest in themes of identity, community, belonging and gathering. The 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 lifespan. In a time of isolation, these initiatives have deepened the pavilion’s intents toward sustained collaboration, and I am excited to continue this engagement with the Serpentine’s civic and education teams and our partners over the summer and beyond.” 

To coincide with this year’s opening the second time gallery announced a new fellowship programme to support artists. It said Support Structures for Support Structures would create a legacy for the commission and signal a new chapter in its history.

The fellowship will support up to 10 artists and collectives in London working at the intersection of art, spatial politics and community practice with an unrestricted grant of at least £10,000 to develop their creative ideas.  The recipients will be announced in July. The selection committee is Sepake Angiama, Director, Iniva; Pooja Agrawal, CEO, Public Practice; Leopold Lambert, Editor in Chief, The Funambulist; Rita Keegan, Artist and Sumayya Vally, Architect, Counterspace.

The Serpentine Pavilion is open 10am-6pm every day, with no ticket required.

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