High atop a building’s roof in Tel Aviv, ephemeral pavilions resemble a colony of high-tech shelters for ‘glamping’ enthusiasts. On the other side of the world, multi-hued, vertically suspended canvas panels, like Joseph’s coat of many colors, create a shelter that’s a contemporary riff on the Bedouin nomadic tent. Another structure is a serpentine nest of braided rope that looks like the refuge of a bygone pre-historic bird or island castaway.
Traditionalists may be surprised to learn that these are all modern interpretations of the proverbial sukkah; public art installations celebrating the Jewish festival of Sukkot that begins September 27th, commemorating the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. They built simple, improvised transportable shelters in the desert en route to The Promised Land.
The sukkah as a metaphor of transience and homelessness was not lost on Nancy Singer, Executive Director of Toronto’s not-for-profit Kehilla Residential Program that champions affordable housing initiatives in the Greater Toronto area. When Singer happened to be visiting NYC in 2010 and saw Sukkah City, an outdoor exhibition of sukkahs by international architects and designers, she knew it was the perfect temporary showcase to raise awareness and funds for Kehilla’s permanent housing and rental assistance program.
“People are very surprised to learn that there are about 24,000 Jewish poor in Toronto – it’s a myth that Jews can ‘always take care of their own,’ ”confides Singer.
“We started the Sukkahville International Design Competition in 2011 as a juried competition and with increased budgets and sponsors each year, we now have 80 to 100 entries from around the world and eight finalists who receive a stipend of $3,600 each, explains Singer. “Interestingly, most of the entrants aren’t Jewish and some had never heard of a sukkah before,” Singer says.
Designs must adhere to specific criteria judged by a diverse panel including City Planner, Ken Greenberg; Jennifer Keesmaat, the City of Toronto’s Chief Planner; the Globe and Mail’s architecture and urbanism writer, Alex Bozikovic; Shauna Levy, President of the Design Exchange and founder of the Interior Design Show and Chris Pommer, founder of PLANT Architect Inc. A panel of three rabbis vetted all initial entries.
The eight finalist sukkahs will join a selection from 2014, surrounding the enormous reflecting pool at downtown Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square in front of City Hall, from September 24th to 27th.
Roots by Ulf Merjergren of Stockholm, Sweden who says of his sukkah (it is) “A poetic reflection of the Jews, where both turmoil and unity have been present and the search for roots of great importance.” Strands of local straw twisted by a rope machine unwind to create the sukkah space in which people sit.
Desert Veil by Gianlucca Pelizzi of Parma, Italy is probably the most traditional looking sukkah of all the finalists. Dry clay is packed into thin metal net walls with a timber roof covered in olive branches. The structure allows for a continuous transition of light and shadow.
Shelter of Four ( 2nd Prize Winner) by Toronto’s Kaya Kim + Deena Jamokha, is an undulating cave-like sukkah with intricately patterned perforations in the shapes of four species of plants (arba’a minim) mentioned in the Torah in relation to Sukkot.
In conjunction with Sukkahville 2015 and commissioned by the Koffler Centre of the Arts in Toronto, visual artist, Dan Bergeron uses his street art aesthetic for his inimitable take on the sukkah built from condo sandwich boards entitled ///re-ply\\\. He designed the interior space to mimic the ‘kids table’ at traditional family celebrations as a place for playful interaction.
From Tel Aviv to Paddington, Sydney, Australia, the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation has transplanted the diaphanous installation, Sway into their Zen Garden until December 12th, 2015 as part of their Fugitive Structures exhibition.
Created by the Tel Aviv -based architectural collective of Sack and Reicher + Muller with fabric expert Eyal Zur (SRMZ), Sway was erected on the roof of their building and when lit at night and viewed from above, it became a living beacon overlooking the city.
In the Zen Garden, it sits on a custom-built, split-level timber floor on which 7,075 T9 aluminum poles are connected into horseshoe-shaped arcs. Visitors pass through the Gallery walking into the installation that re-imagines the sukkahs of the biblical wilderness.
Sway incorporates 21st century calibrated greenhouse fabric that Israel has pioneered for huge ecologically- friendly structures that almost – unbelievably – dot the Negev.
How apropos during Sukkot, that Sway has re-interpreted an age-old miracle in the desert, into a new one: the growing of fruit and vegetables in the small arid nation of Israel.
TOP PHOTO: Created by the Tel Aviv -based architectural collective of Sack and Reicher + Muller with fabric expert Eyal Zur (SRMZ), Sway was erected on the roof of their building and when lit at night and viewed from above, it became a living beacon overlooking the city. Photo: Dan Perez