Counterspace: Architects investigate Johannesburg’s abandoned mine dumps

Collaborative studio, Counterspace investigates the meaning of lost and found spaces in South Africa’s city of gold.

Counterspace is a Johannesburg-based collaborative studio that believes “every space has an equal and opposite counter-space.” Founded by three architecture graduates, Sumayya Vally, Sarah de Villiers, and Amina Kaskar, the studio is interested in designing the future of cities.

The work they do at Counterspace is research-based and their projects take on the form of urban design proposals, showcased through competitions, exhibitions and events. We met with the studio’s founders at the Chicago Architecture Biennial in 2015 to talk about their exhibited project, “Counterspace. Lost and Found: Phantoms of Spaces and Times.” 

In the interview, Vally, de Villiers and Kaskar tell us how they played with image and narrative as a means of deconstructing and reconstructing Johannesburg’s deserted mine dumps, which have become synonymous with the city’s landscape and history. The project is an analytical excavation of the mine dumps that includes stories about people who now occupy the spaces, as well as stone fragments, discarded objects or soil samples found on site.

De Villiers says that the components of the project can come together to form “projections of the past or the future” when thinking about what spaces come to represent in Johannesburg’s cityscape.