In Conversation with Sumayya Vally
Principal of the award-winning architecture and research studio Counterspace, Sumayya Vally's design, research, and pedagogical practice is searching for expression for hybrid identities and territory, particularly for African and Islamic conditions. Her design process is often forensic and draws on the aural, performance, and the overlooked as generative places of history and work.
In 2022 Vally was selected by the World Economic Forum to be one of its Young Global Leaders, a community of the world's most promising artists, researchers, entrepreneurs, activists, and political leaders, and, as a TIME100 Next list honoree, she has been identified as someone who will shape the future of architectural practice and canon. Having recently joined the World Monuments Fund, Vally serves on several boards through her interest in dynamic forms of archive, embodied heritage, and supporting new networks of knowledge in the arts.
In 2019, Counterspace was invited to design the 20th Serpentine Pavilion in London, making Vally the youngest architect ever to win this internationally renowned commission. With the Serpentine, she has initiated and developed a new fellowship program, Support Structures for Support Structures, which assists artists and collectives working at the intersection of art with social justice, the archive, and ecology. As Artistic Director, Vally is currently working on curating the first Islamic Arts Biennale taking place in Jeddah in 2023. She is currently collaborating on the design of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development in Monrovia, Liberia, the first presidential library dedicated to a female head of state, where she will oversee the scenography, pavilions, and exhibition spaces. She is also working on a garden and gathering place commemorating the 5th Pan-African Congress held in Manchester, U.K., in 1945.
Sumayya's practice operates adjacent to the academy. For six years she led the Masters Studio, Unit 12, at the Graduate School of Architecture, University of Johannesburg — founded by Professor Lesley Lokko, with the intent to create a curriculum for the African continent. She has taught and lectured widely, most recently as Pelli Distinguished Visiting Lecturer at the School of Architecture, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
Introduction by Sean Anderson