September 28, 2010
by Linda G. Miller

Event: Exhibition Opening and Presentation: Sukkah City
Location: Center for Architecture, 09.22.10
Speakers: Joshua Foer & Roger Bennett — Co-Founders, Sukkah City co-founders; David Getty & Stephanie Gunawan — Team Members, Shim Sukkah (team member not present: Matthew Jacobs); Henry Grosman & Babak Bryan, AIA — Designers, Fractured Bubble; Michael Arad, AIA & Thomas de Monchaux — Jury Members
Sukkah City Jurors: Michael Arad, AIA; Ron Arad; Rick Bell, FAIA; Allan Chochinov; Matias Corea; Paul Goldberger, Hon. AIA; Steven Heller; Natalie Jeremijenko; Maira Kalman; Geoff Manaugh; Thom Mayne, FAIA; Thomas de Monchaux; Ada Tolla; Adam Yarinsky, FAIA


“Fractured Bubble,” by Henry Grosman and Babak Bryan, which won the “People’s Choice” (left); “Shim Sukkah” by tinder, tinker, which was the jury’s favorite and is now reconfigured at the Center for Architecture.

Jessica Sheridan

Israelites traveling through the desert could never have imagined what Joshua Foer experienced on the first night of Sukkah City. Foer, one of the co-founders of the project, spent the night in “Sukkah of the Signs,” a contemporary take on the sukkah clad in cardboard signs purchased from the homeless. The structure was one of 12 finalists out of more than 600 submissions from designers in 43 countries to re-examine the sukkah, an elemental ephemeral shelter constructed for one week each fall during the Jewish festival of Sukkot. According to Roger Bennett, the project’s other co-founder, “More than 150,000 people were engaged by the sukkot during a 24-hour cycle on Sunday alone [in Union Square].”

“Fractured Bubble,” designed by NY-based architects Henry Grosman and Babak Bryan, AIA, won the “People’s Choice” vote as favorite among the finalists. Their design, made of plywood, marsh grass, and twine, was a sphere opened into three sections. The roof material was composed of phragmites, an invasive species of marsh grass harvested from Corona Park, Queens.

According to Bryan, what prompted him to enter the competition was that “architects deal with rules and responding to restraints and sukkah design is possibly the oldest list of rules we have in print.” The team used a Grasshopper plug-in for the 3-D modeling program Rhinoceros to see if they could actually construct their ideas. Using CNC fabrication and student volunteers, their sukkah was built in Brooklyn’s Gowanus Studio Space and trucked to Union Square.

The jury’s favorite was “Shim Sukkah” by tinder, tinker of Sagle, ID, which is now on view at the Center for Architecture through 10.30.10. The design was inspired by a screen porch with cedar to ward off mosquitoes. The shims are held together by dowels, “allowing each one to maintain its own identity yet be moved as wished,” said team member David Getty. Cedar shakes are trimmed to typical shim dimensions and the structure is furnished with a cedar picnic bench and chairs (complete with matching chopsticks).

Michael Arad, AIA, partner at Handel Architects, was approached by the organizers of Sukkah City when it was still a “half-baked idea.” He asked AIANY to get involved. According to Arad, “Rick [Bell] said ‘mi casa, su casa,’ which is in the spirit of the holiday.” In keeping with the custom, the Chapter is using its sukkah as a meeting and eating space.

Linda G. Miller is a NYC-based freelance writer and publicist, and a contributing editor to e-Oculus and OCULUS.