Studying architecture in her native South Africa, Sumayya Vally and her fellow students were regularly told that anything they could imagine had already been done. The subtext was clear: architecture belonged to the West; all they could hope to do was build upon it. Vally didn’t buy it. To her, the rarefied world of architecture had long ignored the African experience. “There is so much that has been taken away from us or erased or ravaged on the continent,” she says. “In looking at these other ways of being, there is so much design waiting to happen.”
Five years ago, she launched her own studio, Counterspace, in Johannesburg, to develop a design language that acknowledges and celebrates the African continent. Her work, centered on gathering spaces large and small, struck a chord. In 2019, she became the youngest architect ever to receive one of her industry’s biggest accolades: a commission for London’s 2020/20+1 Serpentine Pavilion. The recognition, she says, “means that things are shifting and changing, not just for me and my voice, but for the generation behind me.” Now a teacher herself, she tells her own students that there is another architecture canon—it’s just up to them to dream it. —Aryn Baker
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