Lesley Lokko + Sumayya Vally, Counterparts: This Fragile Condition - Architecture, Autonomy and Allegiance

A dialogue on race, gender, identity, and difference.

March 30, 2021
12:00 p.m.

Counterparts | The Liberation Carnival. Image courtesy Lesley Lokko + Sumayya Vally

Current Work is a lecture series featuring leading figures in the worlds of architecture, urbanism, design, and art.

Counterparts presents a dialogue that has been developing between Lesley Lokko and Sumayya Vally for the last six years. It is an event full of ‘betweens’— between a performance and a presentation; between women; between generations; between disciplines; between time and territory; between talking and telling; between teaching and testing; between words and images, thoughts and things. In short, Counterparts are betwixt and between.

“In architecture, the question of whose pleasures are pursued, who gets to build what, whose histories and experiences are represented, and whose voice is heard is largely inextricable from the more complex question of identity.” 


The initial discussion, which will last approximately 45 minutes, will take the form of a dialogue between Lokko and Vally and touch upon race, gender, identity, difference, and diaspora and their vexed relationship to architectural canon.

“There is absolutely another architecture canon—it’s just up to us to dream it.”  —Vally

Lesley Lokko trained as an architect at the Bartlett School of Architecture, where she also earned a PhD. She was the founder and director of the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Johannesburg from 2014-2019. She recently resigned from her position as dean of architecture at the Spitzer School of Architecture, CCNY, and is now building the African Futures Institute, an independent postgraduate school of architecture and event space in Accra, Ghana. She is currently a visiting professor at The Cooper Union and the Jaquelin T. Robertson Visiting Professor at the University of Virginia. 

Lokko is the editor of White Papers, Black Marks: Race, Culture, Architecture (University of Minnesota Press, 2000) and editor-in-chief of FOLIO: Journal of Contemporary African Architecture. She is also a series editor of Design Research in Architecture (UCL Press), together with founders Jonathan Hill and Murray Fraser. 

In 2004, Lokko made the successful transition from academic to novelist with the publication of her first novel, Sundowners (Orion 2004), a UK-Guardian top forty best-seller. She has since then followed with eleven further best-sellers, which have been translated into fifteen languages. 

She has lectured and published widely on the subject of race, identity, and architecture, and has served on many international juries and awards over the past decade, including the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, Archiprix, the RIBA President’s Medals, Archmarathon, and the Venice Biennale.

Sumayya Vally is the founder and principal of Counterspace. Her design, research, and pedagogical practice is committed to searching for expression for hybrid identity and contested territory. She is obsessed with Johannesburg as a laboratory for finding speculative histories, future archaeologies, and design languages; often with the intent to reveal the invisible. Her work is often forensic, and draws on performance, the supernatural, the wayward, and the overlooked as generative places of history and work. Currently based between Johannesburg and London, Vally was the architect for the 2020/2021 Serpentine Pavilion designed as an exploration of the ways in which belonging is constructed in London. This year, she was named one of TIME’s Next 100, and founded Counterparts, a platform for experimental collaboration. Vally is currently the unit leader of Unit 12: An African Almanac, which she co-taught with Lokko for three years at the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Johannesburg. She is also a visiting critic with Lokko at the University of Virginia.

The lecture will be followed by a conversation and Q&A moderated by Nader Tehrani, founding principal of NADAAA and dean of the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at The Cooper Union.

The Eleanore Pettersen Lecture Series
The Eleanore Pettersen Lecture, established through a generous gift to The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture, is dedicated to the voices of women in architecture as a lasting tribute to Ms. Pettersen’s significant impact in the world of architecture and her love of The Cooper Union. Pettersen, who had worked as an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright and would later design the post-White House home of Richard M. Nixon, was one of the first women to be licensed as an architect in New Jersey and developed a successful practice there that spanned over fifty years.

Lectures in this series have been given by Toshiko Mori (2005), Phyllis Lambert (2006), Elizabeth Wright Ingraham (2008), Billie Tsien (2009), Francine Houben (2011), Sarah Wigglesworth (2013), Farshid Moussavi (2014), and Mabel O. Wilson (2020).

This event is organized by The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture of The Cooper Union and co-presented with The Architectural League of New York.


This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.