New York City, home to the largest population of Jews outside of Israel, has a wide range of traditions and levels of religious observance. Some members of the Jewish community visit synagogues every week, while others do so only on holidays. Some zealously hang mezuzahs on the entrance to their homes and fast the Yom Kippur annual fast, while others light Hanukkah candles or are content in just participating in community center activities.
What is certain is that with the high density that characterizes big cities, city life and specifically New York, very few Jewish residents; whether they’re religiously observant or completely secular, have the opportunity to build a sukkah. A sukkah is a rare sight indeed, and those which do exist are sadly found hidden away in remote corners like backyards and synagogue parking lots.
In 2010 an innovative Architectural design completion called “Sukkah City” brought sukkahs to life. The subject of the Sukkah City competition was creating the most creative and cleverly designed sukkah and to find a new method of shedding light on Jewish culture and traditions. A committee of art critics and architects selected 12 winners from a field of over 600 entries, the twelve winningsukkahswere constructed at Brooklyn’s, 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” stood, starting on September 22, for the seven days of the Jewish holiday – Sukkot. Later, some entries from Sukkah City were also selected for display at the during the month of September.
All of the entries were required to conform to requirements ofhalacha, or Jewish law, which stipulates that a sukkah must be a temporary structure that has to have at least three walls (two full and one partial) that can resist strong winds. By day the roof must provide more shade than sunshine. By custom it must also allow views of the stars at night. Most interesting for architects exploring new materials, the roof must be made of something that once grew in the ground but is no longer attached to the ground.
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. Furthermore, I think the competition offers a chance to reflect on the meaning of the sukkah. The story may be biblical, but its values and content are quite relevant to the 21st century”
The winning sukkah of sukkah city was entitled”Fractured Bubble” ,and was designed by Long Island City architects Henry Grosman and Babak Bryan.
After the mayor of New York officially closed Sukkah City, the competition’s contributions to this holiday practice were examined and are still examined today. The sukkahs themselves were auctioned off, with the proceeds donated to the homeless.