Value Competition // Devin Brown
Installation competitions are a unique and often thought provoking combination of Art and Architecture. Sukkah City is a competition that pushes architects and artists to think differently about what a structure is and represents. It also breathes life into certain abstract ideas and offers a medium for those ideas to become reality. This particular competition was centered around the traditional Jewish festival of Sukkot. The Sukkah, a temporary dwelling erected during Sukkot, is a unique structure that follows traditional Jewish guidelines. These traditional rules were used as guidelines in the reimaging of the Sukkah and what its connotations are in the 21st Century.
The Sukkah’s annual recurrence is not as a monument, archetype, or specific typology. Rather, it is a set of precise parameters, defining space and time. The basic constraints seem simple: the structure must be temporary; it must have at least two and a half walls; it must be big enough to contain a table and most of a persons body; it must have a roof made of shade-providing organic materials through which one can see the stars. The effect of these constraints is to produce a building that is an intellectual tangle of contradictions. When built, the structure is simultaneously new and old, timely and timeless, mobile and stable, open and enclosed, familiar and unusual, comfortable and critical, absent and present.
When designing for this competition looking at the history of the festival and the reason it is celebrated gave insight into the dual nature of the Sukkah. The Festival of Sukkot is traditionally a harvest festival celebrated during autumn. The Sukkah is meant to be a place of eating and sleeping, however sleeping is not required. Sukkahs were sometimes constructed near the fields being harvested to act as a temporary dwelling during the harvest. This inspired my design to create a space that was an abstraction of the harvest and honored the traditions of the Sukkah.
When it was announced that this design had been selected to be constructed, it became very apparent that there were a lot questions that had to be answered. The project was now very real and had real world problems such as material acquisition, site coordination, budget, and client relations. The reality of this project gave us a taste of the complications that can arise in an actual project. Among the challenges that arose were the coordination with the university, material acquisition, and material transportation. We learned that as much as we try to get everything done on our schedule, we have to work at the convenience of other people.
The use of an unfamiliar material and form also helped us learn that just because we can draw something in the computer that looks good doesn’t mean that it will be good. It was a sign that we have learned a lot in school, but we don’t know half as much as we think we do. Learning the importance of nailing down the details in order to execute a holistic design was an important lesson learned from this competition. This project really showed what it was like to be in a design build studio and the difficult questions have to be answered to complete a project.
Written by Devin Brown