2nd Floor, 138 Jan Smuts Avenue Parkwood Johannesburg South Africa, 2000

Johannesburg: 26.2041° S, 28.0473° E London: 51.5072° N, 0.1276°

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Counterspace is an award-winning architecture and research practice led by its Principal, Honorary Professor Sumayya Vally.

The practice occupies a space between the functional and the speculative; pedagogy and praxis; simultaneously describing cities and their histories and futures, and imagining them.

Inspired by its location, Johannesburg, Counterspace is committed to developing design form, particularly for the continent – through design research, publishing, pedagogy, built things, buildings, and other forms of architecture. Our current projects are focused on expressions for African and Islamic hybrid identities – both rooted and diasporic.

Vally’s design, research and pedagogical practice is searching for expression for hybrid identities and territory, particularly for African and Islamic conditions—both rooted and diasporic. Her process is often forensic and draws on the oral, aural, sound, ritual, supernatural, 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, has been identified as someone who will shape the future of architectural practice and canon. She is part of the World Monuments Fund Board of Directors, and serves on several boards through her interest in dynamic forms of archive, embodied heritage and supporting new networks of knowledge in the arts. Vally has been named an honorary fellow of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, which recognises the tremendous impact that architects have—not only on the built environment, but also on public life and the world around them. She was named Dezeen's Emerging Architect of the Year in 2023.

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, Sumayya has creatively shaped the inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale in Jeddah (January - April 23, 2023). From the theme, concept, narrative, creative direction of scenography, with design by OMA; through to the experience and theme identity, contemporary commissions and direction and oversight of overall experience and narrative. She is actively working to expand and deepen the definition of Islamic arts; in an effort to embed new discourses and manifest identities which are reflective, resonant and generative with the philosophies and experience of Islam. She is 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, UK, in 1945. In 2023 she revealed plans for the Asiat-Darse pedestrian bridge in Vilvoorde, Belgium, which takes its inspiration from, and pays homage to the Congolese pan-Africanist horticulturalist, Paul Panda Farnana. Sumayya’s practice operates adjacent to the academy. For 6 years (2015-2021), 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 Professor at the School of Architecture, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Vally leads a new masters’ programme, Hijra, at the Royal College of Art, and is an Honorary Professor of Practice at The Bartlett School of Architecture.



Honorary Professor in Practice, The Bartlett School of Architecture UCL Lecturer / Leader (Masters Studio: hijra هجرة), Royal College of Art

Visiting Lecturer, University of Technology Sydney

Pelli Distinguished Visiting Professor, The School of Architecture at the University of Illinois


Visiting Lecturer, University of Technology Sydney

2015 — 2020

Leader (, Unit 12 Design - Graduate School of Architecture, University of Johannesburg

Lectures & Talks


On Design Podcast (November)

Wadi AlFann Symposium Panel: Art & Landscape (November)

Connecting Cities A Conversation Between Biennales Alserkal (November)

Architects Not Architecture Copenhagen Edition 2022 (November)

Paris+ par Art Basel Conversations | Pan-Africanism and Contemporary Aesthetics (October)

Culture Summit AD 2022 Sumayya Vally in conversation with Tim Marlow (October)

Culture Summit AD 2022: People and Place Panel (October)

Culture Summit AD 2022: Culture and Climate Change: Challenges and Opportunities for Mitigation and Resilience (October)

Sumayya Vally in conversation with Dean Sarah Whiting Harvard University Graduate School of Design (September)

Fall Lecture Cornell University (September)

Sumayya Vally in conversation with Marlene Wagner, Architekturzentrum Wien, Austria (August)

At The End Of The End Of Hstry, AA School, UK (July) Wellbeing Infrastructure: A Call for a New Evidence-Based Approach Toward Built Environments, Klosters Forum Switzerland (June)

Sliver Lecture, University of Applied Arts Vienna, Austria (June)

The Grimshaw Podcast ‘Culture and The City Series’ (June)

Gender Ecologies Project: Building for the future with Yasmeen Lari UK (May)

Wellbeing Culture Forum DLD22 Conference (May)

Ungrounding: Experimenting Methodological Entanglements From the Global South, Politecnico di Torino (March)

Memorial Lecture, Geoffrey Bawa Trust, Colombo, Sri Lanka (March) 'Alternative Practice' Pelli Distinguished Lecturer (February)

Noguchi TV: Sumayya Vally (January)


In Conversation with Sumaya Vally Goldman Sachs (December)

Keynote ‘Counter Current’ Opening Architecture Festival, Aarhus School of Architecture (October)

The Virtual Salon, 1-54 Forum Somerset House (October) In Conversation: Torkwase Dyson and Sumayya Vally (September)

Therme Art, COMMUNION (September)

GSA Lecture Series 2021: Scenographies of Diaspora and Dispersal, Johannesburg, ZA (September)

‘Conversations Across Place: Reckoning with an Entangled World’, Yale Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration (September)

‘On Constructing Belonging’, Berlin Questions (August)

Royal College of Art ‘Inside/Out Lecture Series: Sumayya Vally In Conversation’, London, UK (July)

Sumayya Vally x Dezeen: Serpentine Pavilion 2021 (June)

Eleanore Pettersen Lecture ‘Lesley Lokko + Sumayya Vally, Counterparts’ New York, NY (March)

Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Frictions Lecture Series ‘Counteracts’ Scotland, UK (March)

Architectural Association ‘A New Model for Listening’ New Models Lecture Series, London, UK (February)

Intelligence Squared and Sothebys, The Legacy of Christo & Jeanne-Claude (February)


RIBA + The Modern House, Making Plans Talks’ Sumayya Vally and Charles Holland (December)

Serpentine Galleries, Yasmeen Lari in conversation with Sumayya Vally: The Understory of the Understory (December)

Cooper Union Bartlett ‘Counterpoints’ Visiting Lecture, USA (November)

Delft University of Technology, Transformations: On Monuments, Netherland (September)

Therme Art, Breaking Bauhaus: Renewing its Principles 100 Years Later (September)

Summer Conversations,Transformations: 5X2 (September)

Graduate School of Architecture, Ingesting Architectures: تربة, Dialogue With Dust, University of Johannesburg, ZA (June)

Therme Art and Virtual Design Festival, A live panel discussion on the relationship between Art andArchitecture (May)

American Institute of Architects ‘Counterspace’ Sciame Lecture Series (April)


Graduate School of Architecture ‘Emergent Practice’ International Lecture Series, Johannesburg ZA

Decolonising Feminist Pedagogy, Brighton UK

Gender and Architecture ’TRANS’

Publishing & Research


Amanxiwa | Embodied Archives

Het Nieuwe Instituut ‘Monuments and the Restitution of African Cultural Heritage’ with Sumayya Vally, Wayne Modest, and Nick Axel, Netherlands (December)

e-flux Architecture: Footnotes to a Monument: On Archival Violences (December)

Yale School of Architecture ‘Soil, Walls, and their Funambulists’ Perspecta 53: ONUS (November)

Yokohama Triennale: Chasing the Scent: Momentary Inhabitations of Time, Japan (October)

The Architectural Review Issue 1474 ‘Letters to a Young Architect’ (September)

ICON 200 ‘The Land Under My Fingernails’ (August)

A Blurry Line on the Plan: Johannesburg’s Rituals on the Edge (August)

‘FOLIO: Vol 2’ Graduate School of Architecture, University of Johannesburg, ZA (August)

Google Arts & Culture, Culture of Comfort with Sumayya Vally and Yo-Yo Ma (July)

StorefrontTV: On Maintenance ‘Collective Wakes and Other Spatial Acts of Resistance’ New York, US (June)

Manifesto for Change, The Design Museum, London UK (June)

Around The World ‘Do It Number 76’ (May)


Graduate School of Architecture, Unit 12: An African Almanac, Johannesburg, ZA (2019)

Graduate School of Architecture, Conversation Rooms – Institutional Imaginaries, Johannesburg, ZA (September)

e-flux ‘Golden Plateaus’ (November)

A Blurry Line on the Plan: Johannesburg Rituals on the Edge: Dimensions of Citizenship, Chicago, Illinois (2019)

Gender and Architecture ’TRANS’ Film Screening, Johannesburg, ZA (August)


The Translation of Dreams. Psychoanalytic and Poetic Devices in South African Architectural Education: Delft University of Technology (April)


Makli Necropolis Restoration. ​​Under the guidance of Yasmeen Lari and Heritage Foundation Pakistan, Makli Thatta, PK


The Aesthetics of Absence, Johannesburg, ZA

Exhibitions & Installations


Sumayya Vally and Moad Musbahi invited to Biennale Architettura 2023 curated by Lesley Lokko


Liminal Identities in the Global South, Johannesburg, ZA (3 August 2021 — 29 January 2022)

Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, London UK (22 September 2021 — 2 January 2022)

Social Works II, Gagosian London, UK (7 October — 18 December 2021)

Frieze Sculpture at The Regent’s Park, London UK (14 September — 31 October 2021)

Listening to the City, Serpentine Pavilion (July - September 2021)


Istanbul Biennial ‘Material Histories: Sands, Soils, Recipes and other Archives’


Folded Skies, Installation, Stellenbosch, ZA

Patch: 2 Park Drive, Johannesburg, ZA Children’s

Courtroom, Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, ZA BLOOM

Summer Show, Installation, Johannesburg, ZA


BackStory, Johannesburg, ZA

Purdah, Johannesburg, ZA

Kaleidoscope, Design Johannesburg, ZA


Nelson Mandela Capture Site Exhibition, Howick, South Africa

Pan-African Table Installation, West Lake, Hangzhou, Eastern China


'Light' In collaboration with Lorenzo Nassimbeni and Liesl Potgieter, Swiss Embassy, ZA

Additions and Alterations, The Architect, Johannesburg, ZA


Lost and Found Exhibition Chicago Architecture Biennial, Chicago, US

ArchiMart Wits Architecture Thesis Exhibition, Johannesburg, ZA

Awards & Honours


Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, Honorary Fellow (Sumayya Vally)


OBEL Awards, Juror (Sumayya Vally)

Lexus Design Award 2023, Mentor (Sumayya Vally)

The World Around: Young Climate Prize, Design Champion (Sumayya Vally)

World Economic Forum: Young Global Leader (Sumayya Vally)

Spirit of Ecstasy Challenge, Juror (Sumayya Vally)

African Futures Institute: Academic Advisor (Sumayya Vally)

Galerie’s 2022 Creative Minds (Sumayya Vally)

Dezeen’s Fifty architects and designers you need to know (Sumayya Vally)

Moira Gemmill Prize for Emerging Architecture, Shortlist (Sumayya Vally)


Graham Foundation Recipient: Amanxiwa | Embodied Archives (Russel Hlongwane & Sumayya Vally)

TIME100 NEXT (Sumayya Vally)

SOM Foundation Jury Member European Research Prize (Sumayya Vally)

Dezeen Awards Jury Member (Sumayya Vally)

Dezeen’s top 10 architecture and design videos of 2021 (Serpentine Pavilion 2021)

Dezeen’s top 10 low-carbon buildings of 2021 (Serpentine Pavilion 2021)

Dezeen’s top 10 live talks of 2021 (Sumayy Vally and Hans Ulrich Obrist)

Top five buildings of 2021, Observer (Serpentine Pavilion 2021)

Best architecture of the year, The Guardian Serpentine Pavilion 2021)

Talks Emerging Masters (Sumayya Vally)

World Economic Forum: Young Global Leader (Sumayya Vally)

African Futures Institute: Academic Advisor (Sumayya Vally)


Serpentine Pavilion (Sumayya Vally, Counterspace)

Best Architecture Firms, Domus (Counterspace)

25 Inspiring Women in the Art World (Sumayya Vally)

Manifestos – Architecture for a New Generation, Design Museum (Counterspace)