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.