Sukkah City

Sukkah City

Sukkah [sook-uhCity was a 2010 architectural design competition and work of installation art planned in New York City’s Union Square Park. A sukkah is the name given to a structure described in Torah (Jewish Bible). The Children of Israel were instructed to annually commemorate their Exodus from Egypt by dwelling for seven days every autumn in temporary structures reminiscent of those in which they lived during their 40 years of wandering in the desert before settling in the Land of Israel. Many Jews continue this practice to this day, and Sukkah City aims to re-imagine the sukkah in contemporary design.

A committee of art critics and architects selected 12 winners from a field of over 600 entries. The twelve winning sukkot were constructed at Brooklyn’s Gowanus Studio Space, and driven by truck to Union Square Park for display on September 19 and 20 from dawn to dusk. The design chosen as ‘the people’s choice,’ entitled ‘Fractured Bubble’ by Long Island City architects Henry Grosman and Babak Bryan, stood for the requisite seven days of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. The competition was the brainchild of journalists Joshua Foer and Roger Bennett. It was sponsored by Reboot, an organization that aims to catalyze innovation in Jewish culture, rituals, and traditions.

All of the entries were required to conform to the requirements of Jewish law, which stipulates that a sukkah design must be a temporary structure. The roof must be made of non-edible plant material. The roofing must be thick enough to shade those sitting inside in daytime, and thin enough so that stars are visible through the roof at night. The walls must be at least 10 handsbreadth tall but can be made of any material; the body of a dead whale can serve as a wall. The sukkah can also be built atop a live camel.

According to competition organizer Joshua Foer, ‘The sukkah is a space to ceremonially practice homelessness…. In that sense it is an architecture of both memory and empathy—memory of the huts the Israelites dwelled in during their exodus from Egypt long ago, and empathy for those who live today without solid shelter over their heads. It goes up in the fall, just when it’s no longer entirely comfortable to be outside.’ His comments refer to the weather in New York: in Israel the weather is still very mild at this time of year. One of the winners, Sukkah of the Signs, designed by architects Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello, clad the sukkah structure with several hundred homeless signs collected by the designers from homeless around the country.

One Comment to “Sukkah City”

  1. Very symbolic, especially the booth of cardboard homeless signs: the people wandered a long time in the wilderness before they came to the promised land.

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