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Sumayya Vally.
Photo: Mikhael Subotzky

Creative Mind: Sumayya Vally

The founder of Johannesburg architecture firm Counterspace creates thought-provoking spaces and installations with a powerful message

Sumayya Vally. Photo: Mikhael Subotzky

For South African architect Sumayya Vally, building design is all about changing the way people think. “Teaching is one of the most important things missing from the profession,” she explains. “Architects should be teaching the client to some degree.” Raised in an apartheid-era township, Vally moved to Johannesburg to finish her degree before founding architecture and design studio Counterspace in 2015.

She quickly made a name for herself with captivating installations that bordered on sculpture, such as 2018’s Folded Skies, in which a trio of mirrored structures were tinted iridescent hues that matched the light created by the region’s toxic mine dumps. “It is a reminder that our city is a place of reclamation and resilience,” she says. 

Counterspace’s design for the 2021 Serpentine Pavilion in London. Photo: Iwan Baan

Fresh Perspective: In 2021, Vally became the youngest architect to earn the Serpentine Pavilion commission in London, devising a carbon-negative structure made of detachable components, called Fragments, which were later placed in four communities in the city. “The pavilion has an interest in deeper practices of social sustainability—thinking through how we can honor our past and future,” she says. 

“Teaching is one of the most important things missing from the profession. Architects should be teaching the client to some degree”

sumayya vally

Counterspace’s design for the 2021 Serpentine Pavilion in London. Photo: Iwan Baan

Up Next: In August she’ll unveil the stage for the Notting Hill Carnival, London’s splashy Caribbean festival. 

Counterspace’s design for the 2021 Serpentine Tabernacle in London. Photo: Iwan Baan

A version of this article first appeared in print in our 2022 Spring Issue under the headline “Creative Minds.” Subscribe to the magazine.

Cover: Sumayya Vally.
Photo: Mikhael Subotzky

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