On Sunday a dozen innovative sukkahs will go on display for two days in the south plaza of Union Square. Sukkah City will include one shelter made from a single 5,400-foot-long steel cable; another that resembles an inflatable pool toy; yet another made of cardboard signs printed by homeless people — a dozen structures ripe with metaphoric possibilities.
None of them look anything like the traditional booths erected outside Jewish homes during Sukkot, the weeklong festival that starts on Wednesday evening. Still, the architects had to follow halacha, or Jewish law, which requires a sukkah to have at least three walls (two full and one partial) that can resist strong winds. By day the roof must provide more shade than sunshine. By custom it must also allow views of the stars at night.
Most interesting for architects exploring new materials, the roof must be made of something that once grew in the ground but is no longer attached to the ground.
The 12 designs were selected by judges from a pool of more than 600 entries and vetted by Dani Passow, an orthodox rabbinical student who also has an engineering degree from Cooper Union. “It’s the first kosher thing I’ve ever done,” joked Henry Grosman, an architect based in Queens who is Jewish, when he learned that his sukkah — a wooden sphere covered in phragmites (an invasive reed taking over New York wetlands) — had passed rabbinic muster. He and his design partner, Babak Bryan, spent Wednesday collecting the phragmites from Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
Of the 12 winning teams four are from Brooklyn. That isn’t because of Brooklyn’s historic association with all things Jewish, but its more recent association with all things hip. (None of the winners from Brooklyn is a Jew.)