Rain or shine, Sukkah City STL begins
Nine sukkahs in a variety of shapes and sizes have popped up on Washington University's Danforth Campus. They are all part of Sukkah City STL, a design competition to reinvent the traditional, basic structure of a sukkah.
Each of the sukkahs had to be temporary, have at least two-and-a-half walls and be big enough to contain a table and most of a person's body.
A sukkah is used to celebrate Sukkot, a Jewish holiday that takes place in the fall. It is to commemorate the type of dwellings Jews made during their exodus from Egypt, which was their shelter and a place to eat and entertain. According to biblical law, the structure must have a roof made from organic materials through which one can see the stars.
Winners of a competition have built their designs, and for the next five days, Sukkah City will be available to walk through and admire. (Note: one of the winning designs came from Act3 (Ben Kaplan), Trivers Architecture and the St. Louis Beacon.)
Adjunct professor and one of the organizers of Sukkah's City STL competition, Brian Newman explained, "We are trying to re-image what a sukkah can be and what it can mean to celebrate an ancient festival like sukkot." Inspired by a similar instillation done in New York last year, Newman and Rabbi Andrew Kastner of St. Louis Hillel believed that idea could be pulled off in St. Louis and teamed with Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts and The Museum of ImaJewnation.
From this competition, Newman and Kastner are hoping that a conversation about architecture and religion can emerge. They are hoping people can explore the sukkahs and figure out where these two enormous subject matters meet.
"We commissioned posters by the Firecracker Press and sent them to every school of architecture in the country," said Newman. "I think there was something like 120 schools." They also contacted regional architecture firms and worked with people in the university to help get a press release together.
What: Sukkah City STL: Defining & Defying Boundaries
When: Oct. 18-22
Where: Danforth Campus of Washington University in St. Louis, near the Ann W. Olin Women's Building
Art: L'Chime Sukkah, rendering of design by John Kleinschmidt and Andy Sternad
More than 40 people applied within the 36-hour window of the deadline, "We received submissions from architecture students, practicing architects and even some children, which were adorable," said Newman. "Submissions were from all over the country and in one case as far away as India."
The jury chose 10 winners, nine of which were able to come to St. Louis and build their sukkahs. The winners, who received a small stipend for travel expenses and building materials, have had roughly three weeks to build their design.
"They had little time to build it. It is one thing to come up with a beautiful image of a conceptual space but it is a whole different thing build that place," said Newman. "The kind of dedication and resourcefulness that went into this project was unbelievable. [The winners] put their jobs and to extent their lives on hold to come to St. Louis to build these structures. It is sort of humbling to see these people show up and get to work."
Tene is the name of the sukkah designed by Emery McClure Architecture, from Lafayette, La. "It is a large structure that is constructed out of wire, mesh and baskets all of which were fabricated specifically for this sukkah. They are filled with stone; then, as you get higher, they are filled with leaves; and then as you get even higher, they are empty," Newman said. "It is sort of this dissipating structure as you go closer to the sky, as you go into the sukkah, there is a large opening at the top."
L'Chime Sukkah, created by John Kleinschmidt and Andy Sternad from New Orleans, was explained by Newman as "a frame of four posts and a frame on top. It's sort of a bell jar defined by wind chimes."
Will there be a Sukkah City STL next year for Sukkot? "We don't have plans right now to do it again, but I would like it to happen again in some capacity," said Newman.
Rosa Dudman Mayer is a freelance writer. To reach her, contact Beacon features and commentary editor Donna Korando.