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  • 09.20.10

12 Wacky Holy Shelters Arrive in New York’s Union Square [Slideshow]

Sukkahs, the shelters that Jews annually build to celebrate the harvest festival of Sukkot, are flimsy pieces of work meant to symbolize the transience of life. Traditionally, they’re made with poles, slats, and landscaping refuse (whatever branches came down during the latest windstorm or whatever vegetation is turning brown in the garden). But the sukkahs now appearing in Union Square -? the finalists in an international competition — ramp up that handiwork to the level of architectural artistry. Imagine Rem Koolhaas building a yurt, and you’ll get the picture.

Sukkahs, the shelters that Jews annually build to celebrate the harvest festival of Sukkot, are flimsy pieces of work meant to symbolize the transience of life. Traditionally, they’re made with poles, slats, and landscaping refuse (whatever branches came down during the latest windstorm or whatever vegetation is turning brown in the garden). But the sukkahs now appearing in Union Square -? the finalists in an international competition — ramp up that handiwork to the level of architectural artistry. Imagine Rem Koolhaas building a yurt, and you’ll get the picture.

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[A video by our friends at Architizer]

Sukkah City, the temporary “tent city,” got underway Sunday night, after the shofar was blown, signaling the end of Yom Kippur. Construction teams descended on New York’s Union Square, to cobble together a dozen fanciful dwellings (11 pictured here), culled from more than 600 entries from 43 countries. The jury included international heavyweights Ron Arad, Michael Arad, Rick Bell, Thom Mayne, and Paul Goldberger. On Monday evening, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the People’s Choice winner: “Fractured Bubble,” a spherical explosion of marsh grasses created by Long Island City architects Henry Grosman and Babak Bryan.

A traditional sukkah is meant to be simple. It’s a place to share a meal, entertain, and maybe camp out for a night. Yet, the rules for building an authentic sukkah are quite strict — and prompted no shortage of kibitzing among viewers who argued the merits (and failings) of each on Sunday in the Square.

First off, a sukkah must be temporary. No foundations! It must have at least two and a half walls, and be big enough to hold a table. Its roof must be composed of organic material, and be porous enough to see the stars. But, of course, these strictures have been the launching point for all sorts of Talmudic debate, including whether it’s kosher to reuse a dead elephant for a wall. (It is.)

About the author

Linda Tischler writes about the intersection of design and business for Fast Company.

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