Life, Shelter, and Nature: Contemporary Interpretations of the Sukkah

August 20, 2015 by

desert_veil_sukkahville_2015_urbangardenswebItalian Gianluca Pelizza’s Desert Veil, a wood-framed cube roofed with olive branches.

The Kehilla Residential Programme’s annual Sukkahville Design Competition invites architects, students, artists, builders and design professionals to submit design proposals for the design and construction of a contemporary interpretation of a Sukkah, a temporary structure constructed for use during the week-long Jewish festival of Sukkot.

ShelterofFour-sukkahville_urbangardenswebShelter of Four, Kaya Kim + Deena Jamokha Toronto.

To raise funds and public awareness for their residential assistance program, Kehilla hosts Sukkahville annually on Nathan Phillips Square in front of Toronto’s City Hall prior to the Jewish festival of Sukkot, a holiday observed through the construction of traditional domestic structures known as sukkahs. The 2015 installation will be on view from September 24-27.

LulavForest-sukkahville_2015_urbangardenswebLuLav Forest, by Adryanne Quenneville + Tasneem Rahman, Toronto.

The Kehilla Rental Assistance Program works to create affordable housing initiatives in Toronto and surrounding areas, assisting families to bridge the gap between what they can afford and prevailing market rental rates. In keeping with Kehilla’s mission, the Sukkahville brief challenges entrants to produce innovative design ideas within the context of affordable urban housing, while also transforming a public space into a laboratory for architectural experimentation.


The sukkah represents a number of conceptual universal themes surrounding the nature of dwelling, all rooted in the meaning of space and place. Sukkot has both historical and agricultural significance: it is a festival of the harvest and also commemorates the forty-year period during which the homeless people of Israel wandered the desert living in temporary shelters.


Stockholm, Sweden-based Ulf Mejergren Architects, in collaboration with Toronto artist and designer Kyla Walker, won the competition with Roots, their modern interpretation of a temporary hut made from braided grass which will be recycled later as food for farm animals.


In the designers’ words:
“The sukkah transforms from an almost dissolved and chaotic structure to a neat and interlaced arrangement, in just one piece, creating a highly interesting structure as well as a poetic reflection of the history of the Jews, where both turmoil and unity have been present and where the search for roots have been of great importance. The strands that unwind from the main stem create an enclosure and give places to sit and lie down, both on the inside and outside of the structure. The structure will have similarities with a great tree stump with the roots unfolded and is made out of local grass that is twisted by hand, meaning only one main material is used as well as only one building technique. The ropes are then twisted together until a certain thickness is accomplished. One end of the ropes is finished by being tied together in a great knot and on the other end, the strands are gradually untwined, becoming fluffy fibers closer to the ground. To stabilize the sukkah, some of the larger strands will reach the ground and will also be reinforced with a core structure that the ropes are twisted around.”


Finalists offered diverse interpretations of the theme. I particularly enjoyed Italian designer Gianluca Pelizza’s Desert Veil (above and top of page),  a wood-framed cube roof covered in an open-worked skin of clay and olive branches which the designer intended to symbolize “desert, nomadism and transience.”

While part of a Jewish ritual observance symbolizing the ephemeral and transient quality of life and shelter, the sukkah also aptly represents the need all cities have for accessible and affordable housing.

h/t Bustler.



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