Designer succot

Artists and architects from around the world compete for glory in New York’s ‘Sukkah City,’ where the winning entry will be on display in Union Square.

By JORDANA HORN
September 21, 2010 13:48
Shim Sukkaj (tinder, tinker, Sagle, Idaho)

311_ Shim succa. (photo credit: Courtesy)

NEW YORK – An international succa-building competition based in New York City has pitted famous and not-so-famous artists and architects against one another in an attempt to create deliberately temporary structures of beauty, art and artifice.


In what New York Magazine, its primary sponsor, calls a “village of high-concept lean-to’s,” the project, named “Sukkah City,” is a collection of modern “re-imaginings” of the succa. The design competition challenges competitors “to re-imagine the ancient form of the succa in a contemporary context.”

It started out small, when freelance journalist Joshua Foer had the idea for the project while building his own succa, for the first time, last year.

“I got an apartment with outdoor space, got really into the succa, and thought, ‘Wow, this structure has a lot wrapped up in it – I bet you if we put the challenge of building it in front of the world’s architects, it would sort of help explain why this structure is interesting, and could get some interesting responses,’” Foer told The Jerusalem Post.

Foer brought the idea to his friend, Roger Bennett. Bennett is founder of Reboot, a non-profit organization that attempts to re-generate Jewish communities through film, discussion salons, a quarterly journal and music. Nine months later, the project is almost through, with stellar results, though Foer acknowledges it was put together “by the seat of our pants.”

The competition attracted more than 600 entries from over 40 countries, Foer said, including Egypt and Lebanon – and most entries were from non-Jews.

“I think once architects were confronted as to how many different dimensions this structure resonates in – how much it tries to do in so little, in terms of the many layers of symbolism and history and meaning that has all been glommed onto this little hut, they totally got it and loved it,” he said. “We asked some of the most creative people in the world to re-imagine and renew the succa, and the results are truly dazzling and inspiring.”

The competition’s judges, whose ranks include architectural luminaries, artists and critics, served as a 13-member jury, selecting 12 finalists.

Pictures of the finalists’ submissions were voted on over the Internet (on New York Magazine’s Web site, nymag.com). Each finalist’s entry was constructed off-site in Brooklyn, after which they were all put on display in Union Square this past Sunday and Monday before Succot.

A winner was to be named the People’s Choice from the Internet vote at a ceremony on Monday, and will remain on display in Union Square until October 2 as the “city succa.”

Following the competition, the succot will all be auctioned off at shophousingworks.com, with proceeds to fund local homelessness initiatives. Selected entries will be put on display in an exhibition at the Center for Architecture in New York City.

Entrants were required to conform to Biblical restrictions on the construction of succot. Each entry was required to be temporary, have at least two and a half walls, be large enough to hold a table and have a roof made of “shade-providing organic materials through which one can see the stars,” or s’chach. The rules note, however, that “a deep dialogue of historical texts intricately refines and interprets these constraints.”

Further regulations were enumerated on the Web site, including prescriptions as to handbreadths and New York City construction requirements (any structure larger than 19-by-8 feet is deemed non-temporary under municipal ordinance).

“The rules were the halachic laws of the succa,” Foer said. “But architects love constraints – they flourish under constraints! They appreciated the weirdness of the design constraints they had to work with.”

“The paradoxical effect of these constraints is to produce a building that is at once new and old, timely and timeless, mobile and stable, open and enclosed, homey and uncanny, comfortable and critical,” the Sukkah City Web site reads.

“Ostensibly the succa’s religious func-tion is to commemorate the temporary structures that the Israelites dwelled in during their exodus from Egypt, but it is also about universal ideas of transience and permanence as expressed in architecture,” it explains. “The succa is a means of ceremonially practicing homelessness, while at the same time remaining deeply rooted. It calls on us to acknowledge the changing of the seasons, to reconnect with an agricultural past, and to take a moment to dwell on – and dwell in – impermanence.”

The finalists reflect the expansive intellectual whimsy inspired by the ancient constraints.

In Time/Timelessness, architect Peter Sagar creates a hemp-fiber sukkah where the outside world is brought in.

Repetition Meets Difference by Matthias Karch is a Gehry-esque spiral of a structure resembling nothing less than a divine whirlwind.

Fractured Bubble by Henry Grosman and Babak Bryan is made of plywood, marsh grass and twine.

Gathering by Dale Suttle, So Sugita and Ginna Nguyen, was designed to be “calculated yet unpredictable,” providing both shade and openness.

Blo Puff by the Brooklyn-based design team Bittertang attempted to create an acoustic and visual refuge from the bustling city.

The goal of Star Cocoon, which is made of bamboo and rattan materials, by Volkan Alkanoglu is to encourage communication within a community.

Shim Sukkah by tinder, tinker uses the shim, a wedge usually used to fill an unplanned gap, as its building block.

Single Thread by Matter Practice, is constructed by looping a continuous wire around a bamboo scaffold, which will eventually be removed.

Sukkah of the Signs by Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello, is made of signs purchased from the homeless.

LOG by Kyle May and Scott Abrahams, comprises glass walls supporting a cedar log.

In Tension by SO-IL, is extremely light, like a tent, so it can be transported by one person, with its concave top allowing it to catch leaves that provide shade.

P.YGROS.C by THEVERYMANY (Marc Fornes with Jared Laucks) consists of 3- D lattice structures wrapped into the shape of pipes.

The process and results of the competition are to be published in a book entitled Sukkah City: Radically Temporary Architecture for the Next Three Thousand Years.

While the project was clearly designed as a more universalist take on a Jewish ritual, Foer said that Sukkah City has been received positively by the Jewish community as well.

“One of the goals of the project was to do something that would bring together Jews from across the spectrum in a way that was, at once, totally kosher and halachic, but also totally contemporary, and bringing the best of modern architecture to an ancient design challenge,” Foer said.


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