The OBEL AWARD jury has gained two new members: Sumayya Vally, Founder and Principal at Counterspace in Johannesburg and London, and Aric Chen, General and Artistic Director of the Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam.

With their different backgrounds and professional areas of expertise, the two new members will add important perspectives to the jury’s discussions and work.

“One of the OBEL AWARD’s greatest strengths is the skillfulness and mindfulness of our jury members. With the appointment of Sumayya Vally and Aric Chen, we continue to foster this critical quality of the OBEL AWARD jury composition as well as its generational and geographical span. A warm welcome to Sumayya and Aric,” says Christen Obel, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Henrik Frode Obel Foundation.

“I am honoured to be a part of an award programme which deeply questions – and expands the definitions, discourses, and pertinences of – architecture of and for our time,” says Sumayya Vally about her new title of OBEL AWARD jury member.

“The OBEL AWARD is an award for a project – not a person, not a name. That struck me because architecture needs to confront big questions today. To be able to focus on a project really allows you to dig deeper and articulate solutions,” says Aric Chen about his first impressions of the award.

Aric Chen and Sumayya Vally join the current five OBEL AWARD jury members: Martha Schwartz, Chair (founder, Martha Schwartz Partners, USA), Kjetil Trædal Thorsen (co-founder, Snöhetta, Norway), Louis Becker (design principal and partner, Henning Larsen, Denmark), Dr Wilhelm Vossenkuhl (professor emeritus of philosophy, Germany), and XU Tiantian (founding principal, DnA, Beijing, China.

Vally and Chen are already attending the first jury meetings to decide on the focus for 2023. Every year, the OBEL AWARD jury selects a focus – an important, global issue – and assembles a group of experts from around the world to assess the entries. This year, for example, the focus was on carbon emissions, and the winning project was Seratech, a carbon-neutral concrete technology.

Sumayya Vally

Principal of the award-winning architecture and research studio Counterspace, 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 design process is often forensic, and draws on the aural, performance, 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, Vally has been identified as someone who will shape the future of architectural practice and canon. She recently joined 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.

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 programme, 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, Vally is currently working on curating the first Islamic Arts Biennale taking place in Jeddah in 2023. She is currently 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.

Sumayya’s practice operates adjacent to the academy. For six 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 currently leads a new masters’ programme, Hijra هجرة, at the Royal College of Art and is an Honorary Professor in Practice at The Bartlett School of Architecture.

Photo by Lou Jasmine

Aric Chen

Aric Chen is General and Artistic Director of the Nieuwe Instituut, the Netherlands’ national museum and institute for architecture, design, and digital culture in Rotterdam.

American-born, Chen previously served as Professor and founding Director of the Curatorial Lab at the College of Design & Innovation at Tongji University in Shanghai; Curatorial Director of the Design Miami fairs in Miami Beach and Basel; Creative Director of Beijing Design Week; and Lead Curator for Design and Architecture at M+, Hong Kong, where he oversaw the formation of that new museum’s design and architecture collection and programme.

In addition, Chen has curated dozens of museum exhibitions and other projects internationally, served on numerous boards and juries, and acted as advisor (and currently Co-Chief Curator) to the UABB Shenzhen Biennale of Architecture\Urbanism, London Design Biennale (whose 2023 edition the Nieuwe Instituut will be artistic directing), Cooper-Hewitt Design Triennial (New York), and Gwangju Design Biennale.

He is the author of Brazil Modern (Monacelli, 2016), and has been a frequent contributor to the New York Times, Wallpaper*, Architectural Record, and other publications.


The OBEL AWARD is an international architecture prize presented annually by the Copenhagen-based Henrik Frode Obel Foundation. The award recognises projects that support the common good and are capable of making a significant contribution to both humanity and the environment. The prize is awarded to individuals or groups for various types of projects – such as buildings, masterplans, exhibitions – completed during the last five years. The winner receives a cash prize of one hundred thousand euros as well as a work by Argentine artist Tomás Saraceno.