Saturday, September 18, 2010 THIS SUNDAY SEPT 19 in UNION SQUARE

Biblical in origin, the sukkah is an ephemeral, elemental shelter, erected for one week each fall, in which it is customary to share meals, entertain, sleep, and rejoice.

Ostensibly the sukkah's religious function is to commemorate the temporary structures that the Israelites dwelled in during their exodus from Egypt, but it is also about universal ideas of transience and permanence as expressed in architecture. The sukkah is a means of ceremonially practicing homelessness, while at the same time remaining deeply rooted. It calls on us to acknowledge the changing of the seasons, to reconnect with an agricultural past, and to take a moment to dwell on--and dwell in--impermanence.

Historically, the sukkah's permanent recurrence is not as a monument, archetype, or typology, but as a set of precise parameters. The basic constraints seem simple: the structure must be temporary, have at least two and a half walls, be big enough to contain a table, and have a roof made of shade-providing organic materials through which one can see the stars. Yet a deep dialogue of historical texts intricately refines and interprets these constraints--arguing, for example, for a 27 x 27 x 38-inch minimum volume; for a maximum height of 30 feet; for walls that cannot sway more than one handbreadth; for a mineral and botanical menagerie of construction materials; and even, in one famous instance, whether it is kosher to adaptively reuse a recently deceased elephant as a wall. (It is.) The paradoxical effect of these constraints is to produce a building that is at once new and old, timely and timeless, mobile and stable, open and enclosed, homey and uncanny, comfortable and critical.

'Sukkah City' is an international design competition to re-imagine this ancient phenomenon, develop new methods of material practice and parametric design, and propose radical possibilities for traditional design constraints in a contemporary urban site. Twelve finalists were selected by a panel of celebrated architects, designers, and critics to be constructed in a visionary village in Union Square Park from September 19-20, 2010.

One structure will be chosen by New Yorkers to stand and delight throughout the week-long festival of Sukkot as the People's Choice Sukkah of New York City. 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."

Selected entries will also be displayed in an exhibit at the Center for Architecture in New York City during September 2010.

Next year, Sukkah City will expand from New York City to cities all around the world. If your community would like to be part of Sukkah City 2011, please contact us at

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

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