the art of temporary shelter

Here is the challenge:   Build a structure that is…

…temporary

…has at least two and a half walls

…is big enough to contain a table

…has a roof made of shade-making organic materials through which one can see the stars…

What would you build?

These are some of the Talmudic constraints that twelve design contest winners worked under to make their versions of a sukkah, the ephemeral, rough-hewn dwelling built to celebrate the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot. The twelve unique structures are on display for two days in Union Square Park in New York City. Alerted by a friend, we ran over to see them, and to learn about the amazing idea of a sukkah, about which we knew nothing, and which expanded our ideas of both “shelter” and “celebration”.

For one week each fall, sukkahs are erected to evoke the fragile shelters the ancient Israelites lived in during their many homeless years in the wilderness; it is customary to share meals with family and friends, entertain, and rejoice (and sleep there if weather permits). According to Sukkah City, sponsor of the international design competition, sukkahs are also:

“about universal ideas of transience and permanence as expressed in architecture. The sukkah 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 avant-garde sukkahs in Union Square embody these ideas in unexpected and moving ways.

One is made out of cardboard signs bought from homeless people…

Sally Schneider

Another is made of wooden sticks and dowels that fly up to the sky…

Sally Schneider

There’s a bent cane and rattan cocoon…

Sally Schneider

…and a hut built of carpenter’s wooden shims…

…like a popsicle stick structure with “windows” that rotate open…

Sally Schneider

The strangest sukkah has plexiglass walls supporting a huge tree-trunk roof…

Architizer

While scanning Google images for examples of more everyday sukkahs, we came across this beauty by Wesleyan architecture students, made with 1,600 culms of bamboo, 46 high carbon steel pipes, six steel rods, five spools of monofilament test line and steel rebar. The many poetic rules for making a sukkah seem to spark the architectural imagination.

Apparently, there are sukkahs secreted all over the place this week, decorated with ornaments and flowers, on roofs of synagogues, on apartment terraces, even in the garden of a nursing home in Riverdale. It’s such an strangely magic way to take stock, celebrate, count blessings…We’d like to build one for ourselves…

Heres New York Magazines very good analysis of Sukkah City, with a slide show…

More pictures here

With thanks Lee Haiken for the yelp!

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