Sukkah City Celebrates Emerging Talent and Judaism

“Mazel Tov!” was the phrase permeating Union Square last week at the Sukkah City launch. After all of the tension surrounding the Park51 Islamic community center downtown, it was a relief to attend an event that celebrated and welcomed religion just two miles north. But the event was not only a celebration of Judaism for me. It was a festival of emerging architectural talent, and even though the structures were in the plaza for only two days, it was refreshing to see the public embrace the designers as well as their creations. I felt a true sense of camaraderie among the designers (it was rumored that they were planning on spending the night in their sukkahs), as well as among all of the people visiting the site.

The two sukkahs that stood out to me were the People’s Choice “Fractured Bubble,” by Henry Grosman and Babak Bryan, AIA, and Jury Favorite “Shim Sukkah,” by tinder, tinker (consisting of three recent RISD graduates David Getty, Stephanie Gunawan, and Matthew Jacobs). Both designs are a testament to craft, with “Fractured Bubble” referencing basket weaving and “Shim Sukkah” made from hundreds of shims attached to dowels. I watched tinder, tinker later in the week re-assembling their sukkah at the Center for Architecture, and I could really see the personal connection between the designer and the structure as they hammered at each shim, one by one.

The big question for me about the event was why the structures were only erected for a two-day period and not for the weeklong holiday of Sukkot? With the exception of “Fractured Bubble,” which did remain for the duration, and “Shim Sukkah,” which is now constructed at the Center for Architecture, the other 10 structures were disassembled. At the same time I was excited about the event, I was sad that the sukkahs would be installed so fleetingly.

I also wondered about the afterlife of the projects. Did the teams take into account what would happen after the installation was finished? The sukkahs were supposedly auctioned off to benefit Housing Works. Are any of the teams reconstructing them elsewhere? Will any of the materials be recycled and/or re-used? For such a temporary installation, I hope that the design teams took a more holistic approach to construction. Ultimately, I believe this competition was extremely successful on many levels and I hope that this becomes an annual event.