Wednesday, September 22, 2010

USA: Sukkahs for New York

Sukkahs for New York

Earlier in the summer I wrote in The Forward about the great Sukkah competition in New York called Sukkah City. The contest proved wildly popular with architects and artists from around the world and approximately 600 entries were received by the organizers. I’m not sure who was able to evaluate these for their faithfulness to halacha. Certainly the twelve chosen winners are imaginative designs but some may off the mark for religious observance. Maybe that should be so, since these winners were erected earlier this week on public land in Union Square, and I for one am always squeamish whenever I see any semblance of religious practice impinge on secular and pluralistic space. mJust as in America we must protect the right of religious practice; we must be equally clear about the separation of church (or synagogue or mosque) and state. Still, in Lower Manhattan, churchyards have always been seen as public open green spaces, offering respite from claustrophobia, so I think it OK if sukkahs occupy Union Square for forty-eight hours. What the radicals who used to demonstrate in Union Square would think I do not know, but the harvest holiday huts do seem in keeping with the new agrarian nature of the place, since the park is surrounded by what is now the city's best known farmer's market.

The panel of judges had no rabbis or Jewish scholars, but did include Pritzker prize-winning architect Thom Mayne, The New Yorker’s architecture critic, Paul Goldberger, NYU Environmental Health Clinic Director Natalie Jeremijenko, and designer Ron Arad. The winners were selected in a blind review, and include the Brooklyn-based firms Matter Architecture Practice; Bittertang, winners of the 2010 Architectural League Prize; and Solid Objectives – Idenburg Liu, winner of the 2010 MoMA/P.S.1 Young Architects Program.

One structure, the "Fractured Bubble" designed by Babak Bryan and Henry Grosman
was voted on by New Yorkers to stand throughout the week-long festival of Sukkot as the “People’s Choice Sukkah.” Selected entries are also being displayed in an exhibit at the Center for Architecture in New York City during the month of September. The process and results of the competition, along with construction documentation and critical essays, will be published in the forthcoming book "Sukkah City: Radically Temporary Architecture for the Next Three Thousand Years."

The twelve winning designs and a much larger selection of entries can be seen here and is worth the browsing time. I have not had a chance to look at the carefully yet, but when I do I'll have some additional comments on some of the most common design trends and some of my personal favorites.

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