Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sukkah City

I'm not Jewish. I know barely more about Judaism than most folks just because I'm interested in other faiths and their practices, particularly ones that have such ancient and deeply spiritual practices. So when I heard of Sukkah City back in May of this year, I had to hunt for more information about its background so that I could truly understand the idea behind the project. (This site provides a good grounding of the basics of the holiday Sukkot, which inspired Sukkah City.)

What is Sukkah City? It was/is a design competition aimed at looking at sukkahs from as many angles as possible, but centering around the idea of "temporary shelters." There's an interesting set of rules, which are taken right out of Jewish law regarding the building of sukkahs. One of them: "A sukkah may be built on a boat." Another says that it could be on a wagon. Walls and ceilings and height are mentioned, as well, including their possible porousness or complete lack thereof. Aside from these rules, designers could imagine and build the sukkah in any way, and using whatever materials, they wanted. (Michael Arad, the designer of the World Trade Center memorial, is one of the main judges.)

This week, the finalists' designs (you could also call them winners, although the final winner hasn't been announced) are on display in New York's Union Square, and as you might imagine, these structures are truly amazing and imaginative. They also look at the sukkah in many different and unexpected ways; one sukkah is made out of signs (of the "will work for food"/cardboard & Sharpie type), while another appears to be made out of wooden slats put together in a very sculptural fashion with a flame-like form. Essays are supposed to be written about the Sukkah City project and slated for publishing, and I'm extremely interested in reading what is sure to be a lot of insightful analysis and commentary.

Art meets architecture meets spirituality and spawns something amazing -- that's how I'd describe Sukkah City. It treats the rules and design principles (particularly line and volume) as toys and tools, not restrictions. It's an interstitial project that strikes a deep chord with my personal design philosophy. It can also teach us a great deal about how we could live in the future, especially if disaster strikes and destroys permanent housing. The fact that proceeds from auctioning the structures will go to Housing Works (an organization that through various projects "is committed to ending the twin crises of AIDS and homelessness") is the cherry on top. There has been mention of seeding Sukkah City to other cities across the country for next year, and so I am hoping that Atlanta will rise to that challenge.

Other links regarding Sukkah City:
* Sights and Sounds of the Sukkah City Design Competition []
* In Search of Sukkah City [Observatory: Design Observer; by Thomas de Monchaux]
* Sukkah City [BLDGBLOG]
* Sukkah City - Harvest of Shelters, Temporary by Design []

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