Jewish Tradition Meets Contemporary Design in Sukkah City

September 15, 2010

By Carl Yost

On September 19 and 20, an encampment of 12 temporary shelters erected for the Jewish harvest festival Sukkot will be on view in Manhattan’s Union Square.

Sukkah City
Image courtesy Sukkah City

Sukkah City” Winners

Volkan Alkanoglu
Henry Grosman and Babak Bryan
Matthias Karch
Matter Practice
Kyle May and Scott Abrahams
Ronald Rael,Virginia San Fratello
Peter Sagar
Dale Suttle, So Sugita, Ginna Nguyen
tinder, tinker
THEVERYMANY / Marc Fornes with Jared Laucks

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The structures are the result of a juried design competition, organized by Reboot and Union Square Partnership, that sought contemporary interpretations of the sukkah—a hut that evokes the provisional shelters Jews dwelled in during their 40 years of exile. The “Sukkah City” competition was funded by several foundations and private donors.

For the uninitiated (the competition was open to anyone, Jew and Gentile alike), the brief recapped the parameters set by Jewish law. A sukkah must consist of at least two and a half walls, topped by a roof that is open to the stars yet also provides ample shade during the day. Floors areas can be as small as 7-by-7 feet and as large as the celebrant wants (although the Department of Buildings capped the Union Square ones at 19-by-8 feet). The law also defines permissible locations (a camel’s back? totally kosher) and guidelines for natural materials. Poetically, one such constraint states, “The roof must be made from something that once grew in the ground, and is no longer attached to the earth”—that is, something literally uprooted.

The winners, announced in August, conceived an exuberant array of solutions: parametric formal exercises, bravura engineering, phenomenological experiences of light and shadow, political statements, ironic gestures. On September 20, one will be anointed “People’s Choice”—vote now at—and will stand in Union Square through October 2. All 12 shelters will be auctioned off to benefit Housing Works, an organization that helps the homeless.

For more information, see

Update: One of the 12 sukkahs—Shim Sukkah, by tinder.tinker—will be on view at AIA New York's Center for Architecture from September 22 to October 30. An opening reception will take place from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on September 22 to coincide with the first night of the Jewish harvest festival Sukkot.



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