Ten cutting-edge Sukkahs by architects and designers from around the nation will be installed Oct. 18-22 on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis.
The projects are winners of Sukkah City STL, an ambitious contemporary design competition that challenged participants to reimagine the traditional Jewish Sukkah—a small, temporary structure erected each fall during the weeklong festival of Sukkot—through the lens of contemporary art and architecture.
"The holiday of Sukkot in Jewish tradition is a way of ceremonially dwelling on, and dwelling in, impermanence," says Rabbi Andrew Kastner of St. Louis Hillel, which co-sponsored the competition with the Sam Fox School and The Museum of ImaJewnation.
"Each of the proposals, in their own way, have re-imagined the ancient sukkah, using it as a canvas to explore the role boundaries (play in defining) what it means to be human," continues Kastner, who organized the competition with Brian Newman, adjunct lecturer of architecture in the Sam Fox School.
"The finalists have addressed this creative challenge through expressions of both the particular and the universal," Kastner says. "We are certain that the installation will provoke deep and meaningful conversation."
The 10 winning projects, by both individuals and teams of architects and designers, were selected from a field of more than 40 entries.
Bruce Lindsey, dean of architecture in the Sam Fox School as well as the E. Desmond Lee Professor for Community Collaboration, chaired the competition jury. Other jurors included environmental designer Mitchell Joachim; Chicago architect Carol Ross Barney; and Christopher Hawthorne, architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times.
Rounding out the jury were Hyim Shafner, rabbi at St. Louis' Bais Abraham Congregation and former Chief Rabbi of India; and Nancy Berg, PhD, professor of Modern Hebrew Language and Literature in the College of Arts & Sciences.
Projects will be installed outdoors on the Danforth Campus, near the Ann W. Olin Women's Building.
"We didn't quite know what to expect when we sent this project out into the world, but the response has been amazing," Newman says. "The work, as a whole, is so thoughtful, so architecturally exciting, and the participants have all proved to be endlessly enthusiastic.
"We really can't wait to see how these incredible conceptual structures come to life as built work."
Additional support for Sukkah City STL was provided by the St. Louis Jewish Community Center and by the Sam Fox School's Charles and Bunny Burson Art Fund.
Sukkah City STL winners
"Named after the Old Testament Hebrew word for a large, deep basket used for gathering the harvest from the garden or field, the Tené serves as both a shelter and a symbol for gathering. It is materially frail but in its congregation (like the Israelites) gains its strength. Sometimes empty, sometimes full, the Tené shields the sun but yields to the heavens, reminding the celebrator of God's providence.
"The Tené is a Sukkah made of a singular repetitive unit that changes only in orientation and content: wire mesh, stone gravel, leaves, fiber rope, and D-rings. The Sukkah is triangular at its base, bending and angling to an oculus at its apex. Each unit singularly gains strength with folds and collectively with contact points of adjacency. Stacked, tied, and filled, their assembly creates the necessary shelter."
Act3 (Ben Kaplan), Trivers Architecture, and St. Louis Beacon
“While many of the Sukkot’s symbols are agricultural, the holiday has historical significance as well. In commemorating the 40 years the children of Israel wandered the desert, living in temporary shelters, Sukkot, or booths—it reminds us not only of the long journey of the Jews, but of the journeys we all travel through our lives, and that at each stage of our journey, we must find a new home.
“This process of finding a new home recalls the harvest, as we gather up our things so that we may begin again somewhere new.
“This Sukkah, then, is meant to represent those intertwined themes: transitions, and the journey.”
Brooklyn, NY, and Cambridge, MA
60 degree Sukkah
"'Firmament' or 'Raqiya' is a biblical reference to the sky, whose metaphorical 'architecture' is a screen or surface to separate the water of the oceans from the water of the sky. It is also a threshold that notates the beginning and ending of the day—an event so ordinary that we overlook the massive forces at play, yet so pervasive that our lives and bodies continue to be shaped by the transition.
"I took the idea of firmament as an analog, something that is both conditional and material—double-operative. While the roof of a shelter is typically for protection, in the case of the 60 degree Sukkah, it is a mediator between the occupant and the sky. Because the angle/altitude of the sun during the festival is never greater than 41 degrees, the 6" depth of the tubes acts as a diffuser. Even on a bright day, you will be able to sit in the shade and look up at the sky."
"Contemporary borders are mediated by the individual. Digital and social media allow an unprecedented amount of openness, but also flexibility in how we mediate our continually refreshed and updated public selves. Sometimes open, sometimes closed, our borders are transparent or translucent—a switching we are sometimes aware of and sometimes not.
"Thru-motion mediates this delicate boundary by an individual's position, speed, and focus. Two lightweight transparent mono-films—the same materials used in lightweight racing and windsurf sails—are silkscreened with a similar pattern: the outer mono-film, green, and the inner, blue. By rotating the patterns slightly from each other, an infinitely complex Moire effect is created—one that exhibits varying degrees of transparency depending on the viewer's focus, position, and speed.
Lea Oxenhandler and Evan Maxwell Litvin
"The goal of this structure is to create a space that connects the earth to the sky. The form starts flat on the ground and arcs upward, culminating in a sharp peak of interwoven rope and natural vegetation framing the sky as of focal point of the Sukkah's inhabitants.
"Using materials entirely from the earth, including nautical fiber rope and poplar wood, this Sukkah is easily constructed from a kit of parts in a participatory way. Since there is no required skill to wrap the Sukkah with rope, anyone can participate in this construction, encouraging community interaction and teamwork amongst peers."
Alexander Morley and Jennifer Wong
"Beyond a mass departure of people, the Exodus speaks to the human desire to remove oneself from a narrow and closed view of life and transition into an open, accepting view of the world. This endeavor, as the story demonstrates, comes only with great sacrifice, perseverance, and reliance on others.
"Exodus strives to embody the spirit of unity, collaboration, and determination within the human condition. Using a kit of parts evenly divisible from a standard sheet of plywood, seven units of CNC milled pieces create a gradient of porosity that embodies the spiritual journey across the Sinai Desert. The seven units configure into seven interlocking vertical modules, allowing for varying degrees of enclosure and density for the Sukkah."
Casey Hughes Architects
"This Sukkah is intended to create a religious and social space that can adapt to the needs of the various communities that it serves throughout the Sukkot. When fully enclosed, it is conventional in scale, but the Sukkah can also open to create an amphitheater type space that can accommodate larger gatherings.
"As with tradition, this Sukkah merges with its environment, adapting to its context to provide enclosed intimate spaces as well as incorporating its surroundings. Three piano hinges connect the 4 bays of the Sukkah and allow the 8' by 16' footprint to open on large swivel casters to fulfill its more public role. This possibility of being reconfigured heightens the understanding of the Sukkah’s temporality, in that it isn't a single space, but rather a transformative social infrastructure."
yo_cy design (Christine Yogiaman and Kenneth Tracy) and Forrest Fulton Architecture (Forrest Fulton)
"Though the holidays and its activities are primarily organized around memory, the design and construction of a Sukkah is not an exact architectural reenactment. Design more closely evolves from new situations through a few established constraints. Therefore, the design of a Sukkah filters a new situation through these constraints.
"The proposed design filters harvested grasses of the Midwest prairie through the constraints to make a situational Sukkah. It negotiates those constraints via two distinct material systems, one of which loosely controls the other. A lacy plywood structure delicately pinches the grasses to form a reciprocal structural system. This reciprocal system is formed through the manual placing of grass tufts in a spiraling frame. The topology formed through the repetitive act bends the space of the Sukkah toward the sky."
John Kleinschmidt and Andy Sternad
"A field of wooden rods is suspended via thin cotton string from a grid. At all four sides, the rods extend to just above the ground. To enter the Sukkah, one must fundamentally change its shape and push the rods aside to make a path, causing them to gently knock together.
"Entry to this Sukkah is announced by the chimes. The chimes, which are cut from 1/2” wood dowels, each hung with a simple knotted joint, yield a chorus of 'wood echoes' that gradually fade back to silence as the rods stop swinging and resume their original positions."
Bronwyn Charlton and Linda Levin
"Since its inception, Sukkot has linked the worlds of heaven and earth: the sky, serving as a reference point for secular and religious practice, functioned as a measure of time for agricultural processes as well as a focus for faith in a higher power. This upward orientation created an awareness of time, of others, and of what transcends the mundane.
"Our design, Heliotrope, utilizes the experience of light and darkness, through a gradient of translucency and opacity, to explore how the fluidity of the human experience mediates physical, cultural, and spiritual boundaries. The traditional Sukkah, in this way, becomes a shelter that reminds us of things that used to be central to our lives, inspires us to overcome a boundary between past and present, and lights the way for the future."