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A “Sukkah City” to rise in St. Louis

by Jonah Lowenfeld

October 10, 2011 | 7:50 pm

Does this look like a Sukkah to you? "Gleaned," one of 10 winning entries to the "Sukkah City STL" competition, will be built next week on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis. Design by Christine Yogiaman, Forrest Fulton and Ken Tracy. Image courtesy Washington University in St. Louis

A cocoon of whirling prairie grasses, a pavilion with a ceiling of carefully angled tubes, a shelter made entirely of wind chimes—these and seven other architecturally innovative booths will be erected on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis on Oct. 17 to celebrate the autumnal Jewish harvest festival that begins on Wednesday, Oct. 12, at sundown.

Sukkot—which is the plural form of Sukkah, the Hebrew word for booth—is also the name of this 8-day holiday, the festival of booths. For just over a week, Jews eat, shmooze and even sleep in humble, temporary outdoor structures.

For years, the typical Sukkah has involved pieces of fabric lashed to a simple rectangular frame of aluminum poles. But the holiday has recently become an invitation to architectural creativity. Last year saw a “Sukkah City” rise for two days in New York City’s Union Square. This year, inspired by that project, Rabbi Andrew Kastner of the St. Louis Hillel and Brian Newman, an adjunct lecturer of architecture at the university’s Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts decided to put together their own “city” of Sukkot on campus.

The 10 booths in “Sukkah City STL” will stand in a grassy area near the main library of Washington University for four days, starting on Oct. 18, and their designs are a far cry from the booths that will be found in backyards, front yards, rooftops and porches around the world during the holiday.

Take the above-mentioned cocoon of grass: Designed by Fox School faculty members Christine Yogiaman, Forrest Fulton and Ken Tracy, the “Gleaned” Sukkah could be mistaken for one of Richard Serra’s torqued ellipses—except that it’s woven from three different kinds of locally sourced prairie grasses. It’ll be interesting to see what it looks like from the inside, and how it holds up in the world.

This Midwestern event has a couple of Los Angeles connections: Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne was among those on the jury who picked the 10 winning plans out of 40 entries, and one of those winning entries came from a Los Angeles-based firm, Casey Hughes Architects.

Hughes’ design for “Sukkah Collective” appears to share little in common with the swish and curvilinear booths that will sit alongside it at Washington University next week. The unadorned rectangular box of a Sukkah looks, at first glance, pretty ordinary—until the walls start moving outward. The project appears to be very much of a piece with Hughes’ other built work, which puts a premium on the economical use of space and uses natural materials in a gently modern idiom.

“When fully enclosed, it is conventional in scale,” Hughes writes of the design, “but the Sukkah can also open to create an amphitheater type space that can accommodate larger gatherings.” Having an expandable Sukkah wouldn’t be such a bad thing for hosts expecting a lot of company over the holiday, right? I’m thinking Hughes might be onto something…

Check out the other designs here.

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