October 16, 2010
Henry Grosman and Babak Bryan, Long Island City
Shim Sukkah Tinder, Tinker, Sagle, Idaho
Star Cocoon, Volkan Alkanoglu, Los Angeles, California
Sukkah of the Signs, Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello, Oakland, California
Union Square, New York City – a meeting place for powerful businesses, the home of four historical monuments, including Abraham Lincoln, Mohandas Ghandi, the Marquis de Lafayatte and George Washington, or a village of huts sprouting grass and hemp causing a carpet of natural materials to aimlessly ramble across a plaza normally leached with modernity and commerce.
It is latter image that bears the truest significance of Union Square at present caused by a novel and intriguing architectural competition. The Sukkah City competition and its dominance on Union Square has led to a subsequent transformation of one of New York’s finest and busiest of open areas.
Outside of Israel, New York City is home to the largest population of Jews in the world. Despite the prolific number of Jewish people that reside in New York, the sukkah –a traditional temporary hut that Jewish people construct each year to commemorate their ancestors living as nomads – is an unfamiliar sight in a city slurred with the high rise and the ultra modern.
In an attempt to amend New York’s seemingly unwitting disrespect in its avoidance of the sukkah, two journalists from Reboot, an organization dedicated encouraging and renewing Jewish identity, launched the Sukkah City competition, aimed at promoting an important element of Jewish tradition in one of the most cosmopolitan and sophisticated cities in the world.
Since it was announced in May, the competition has whipped up quite storm within the world of architect and design, with some 600 entrants from 43 countries submitting designs presenting interesting modern angles on an ancient Jewish convention.
Abetting the weightiness of the competition is the impressive panel of judges, including the Pritzker Prize winning designer Thom Mayne and Paul Goldberger, an architecture reviewer for The New Yorker, ready to affirm their expert vision on architectural masterminds.
600 were whittled down to just 12, whose sukkahs that ingeniously combine the novel with the previous, the permanent with the changeable and the closed with the open, were each allocated a $10,000 budget and their constructions placed in Union Square, now a contemporary mishmash of slats, hemp, cardboard, grass, wire and rattan built in the most avant-garde and inspirational way possible. Union Square should be now renamed Sukkah City.
In creating a digital sukkah, finalist Matthias Karch, pinpointed a mergence from with the imaginatively inventive ancient constructions into a super-modern era of the digital. Speaking of the brilliance of the competition, the German architect said:
“It was an amazing sight: every terrace with a different structure. Even though I’m not Jewish, I hope I have managed to create a place that will speak to Jews. But I may be criticized for being too modern.”
But in a city like New York nothing can stand accused of being “too modern”, even if the very reason it exists is to blur the boundaries between religious tradition and architectural radicalism.