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

Johannesburg: 26.1497° S, 28.0342° 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.

Sumayya Vally, an Honorary Professor of Practice, is the founder and Principal of Counterspace, a practice lauded for its innovative design, research, and educational pursuits. Counterspace is dedicated to articulating expressions of hybrid identities and spaces, with a focus on African and Islamic conditions that are both indigenous and diasporic. Vally's unique design methodology is forensic in nature, leveraging the oral, aural, ritual, and often overlooked elements as fertile grounds for historical exploration and creative output.

In 2019, Vally was selected to design the 20th Serpentine Pavilion in London, making her the youngest architect to work on the commission. The pavilion opened to critical acclaim as being one of the most radical pavilion designs to shape the commission. Her collaboration with the Serpentine extended to the creation of the Support Structures for Support Structures fellowship programme, aimed at empowering artists and collectives working at the intersection of the arts, social justice and ecology.

In 2022, Vally was recognized by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader and was named a TIME100 Next list honoree, named as a figure poised to transform the future of architectural practice and theory. She has expanded her influence by joining the Board of Directors at the World Monuments Fund and actively participating on numerous boards that share her passion for dynamic forms of archive, embodied heritages and the development of innovative knowledge networks within the arts. The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada acknowledged her contributions to architecture and society by awarding her the 2023 Honorary Fellowship. Further accolades include being named the Emerging Architect of the Year at the 2023 Dezeen Awards and being listed among the Financial Times Readers’ Women of the Year 2023.

In addition to her architectural achievements, Vally's role as the Artistic Director of the inaugural Islamic Arts Biennale (January - May 2023) in Jeddah marked a pivotal moment in reimagining the definition of Islamic art. Her innovative approach, rooted in decolonial principles and grounded in the lived experiences of the Islamic world, has earned widespread acclaim and praise for its bold reinterpretation of traditional paradigms.

Parallel to her practice, Vally has made significant contributions to academic discourse. From 2015 to 2021, she directed the master’s studio, Unit 12, at the Graduate School of Architecture, University of Johannesburg, an initiative by Professor Lesley Lokko; aimed at devising a curriculum catered to the African continent. Her extensive teaching and lecturing engagements include serving as the Pelli Distinguished Visiting Professor at the School of Architecture, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; leading a new master’s program, Hijra, at the Royal College of Art; and holding the position of Honorary Professor of Practice at The Bartlett School of Architecture, and remains dedicated to transforming architectural education globally.

Projects, Exhibitions & Installations


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

Lectures & Talks


Business of Fashion Voices 2023. Why I build Bridges

Where in the World Is Tashkent. First conference on Tashkent’s Modernist architecture.

Latitudes Podcast. Sumayya Vally: The voice of art from Africa

afikra Podcast: Art and Spirituality in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Al Jazeera Studio B: Unscripted. Reimagining architecture: Sumayya Vally and Alejandro Aravena

Milano Arch Week 2023 Around Peripheries - Sumayya Vally in conversation with Joseph Grima

Treasured Spaces: Why the world needs pavilions. Sumayya Vally in

conversation with Lina Ghotmeh, moderated by Bettina Korek

Petra National Trust: Sumayya Vally in conversation with HRH Dana Firas

Scaffold Podcast 82: Sumayya Vally

Prada Frames - Materials in Flux

Columbia GSAPP Kenneth Frampton Endowed Lecture Series

Kenneth Frampton Endowed Lecture series Columbia GSAPP

Global Art Forum 2023: Predicting the Present

Wren Conversations: Building Cities Exploring

The Brooklyn Rail Director’s Series: Sumayya Vally and Aya Al-Bakree


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’


NEXT IN Museums Innovation Impact Summit - Acciona cultura, Madrid

Hong Kong University Department of Architecture Spring 2024 Public Lecture Series

AFSACK Salon Series. Threads of Culture: A Dialogue on Design, Identity, and Spirituality with Sumayya Vally

Publishing & Research


Harvard Design Magazine 51 F/W 23: Multihyphenate

Koozarch: Sumayya Vally on the agency of architecture


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

Awards & Honours


AD100 Italy honoree (Sumayya Vally)

AD100 Middle East and Africa honoree (Sumayya Vally)

#1 Architect in The 100 - the top 100 voices in industry, Scape Magazine (Sumayya Vally)


Emerging Architect of the Year, Dezeen Awards 2023 (Sumayya Vally)

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)



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