600 architects compete to design a sukkah

The Architectural Review, October 2010, News

For a temporary structure, the sukkah has been around a long time. For 3,000 years, Jews have built these ephemeral shelters to commemorate the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. During the annual Sukkot holiday, devout families recreate the nomadic experience of their ancestors by erecting sukkahs in back gardens and on balconies. For a week they will live in them, eat and sleep in them.

Over the last century, however, Sukkot has fallen out of favour. Few Jews outside of Israel still observe the holiday. And yet as an architectural challenge, the sukkah is irresistible. In addition to the constraints of any temporary pavilion, it’s also prescribed by a series of ancient rules honed by rabbis. It must have at least two-and-a-half walls (one of which can be a living elephant). The roof must be made of leaves or branches. During the day it must provide more shade than light and at night allow a view of the stars. It may be built on top of a camel but never beneath a tree.

Earlier this year, in a bid to revive the holiday, American writer Joshua Foer held a sukkah design competition. Over 600 architects from 43 countries entered and in September, 11 finalists worked through the night – as is the tradition – to assemble their structures in New York’s Union Square.

The next day, the public were invited to vote for the winner. In the end, a glass-walled pavilion capped by a tree trunk by Kyle May and Scott Abrahams (pictured); a series of wooden sticks bolted together and pointing skyward by Dale Suttle, So Sugita and Ginna Nguyen; a single wire laboriously thread around a bamboo frame by Matter Practice; and Bittertang’s inflated vinyl bubble topped by aromatic eucalyptus all lost out to Babak Bryan and Henry Grosman’s clever manipulation of the rules: a broken sphere of plywood, marsh grass and twine, resembling a flower bud as its spiky petals begin to open.

This article at The Architectural Review (subscription site)