Counterspace’s monumental Serpentine Pavilion celebrates London’s diasporic cultures

Architecture that amplifies

Fragments of buildings and abstract shapes come together to create Counterspace’s temple-like Serpentine Pavilion, unveiled this week in London’s Kensington Gardens.

The annual architecture commission is the first UK project for the Johannesburg-based practice, led by Sumayya Vally. She becomes the youngest architect to design the Pavilion, which was slated to open in summer 2020 before the pandemic put a pause on the project.

Courtesy Serpentine Galleries

But if time adds anticipation, it’s also added scale and scope to Counterspace’s powerful design, which celebrates London’s multi-cultural makeup.

As Vally explained: ‘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.’

The Pavilion’s design draws upon past and present meeting places of diasporic communities in the capital, namely Brixton, Hoxton, Edgware Road, Barking, Dagenham, Peckham and Tower Hamlets.

Courtesy Serpentine Galleries

Abstract forms found in important community cultural buildings are superimposed and spliced together to create the Pavilion’s geometric silhouette. These include elements from the Fazi Mosque and East London Mosque; The Four Aces Club on Dalston Lane; The Mangrove restaurant and Notting Hill Carnival; and cooperative bookshops including Centerprise, Hackney.

Reclaimed steel forms the structure’s skeleton, with cork and timber covered in a pinkish-brown micro-cement. These pigmented hues nod to the city’s light as well as London’s building stock. The 2021 project goes beyond the usual boundary of Hyde Park too.

As a gesture about decentralising and diversifying architecture (and who can enjoy it), Counterspace has placed four fragments of the Pavilion in cultural space whose work inspired the Pavilion’s design. These include UK New Beacon Books in Finsbury Park, The Tabernacle in Notting Hill, The Albany arts centre in Deptford and the new Becontree Forever Arts and Culture Hub at Valence Library in Barking and Dagenham.

Counterspace’s Pavilion opens to the public on Friday 11 June through till October 2021.

Courtesy Serpentine Galleries
Courtesy Serpentine Galleries
Courtesy Serpentine Galleries

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