On September 19, 2010, 12 otherworldly structures appeared mysteriously overnight in Union Square, New York, comprising a mirage-like installation called Sukkah City. Each newly designed dwelling was a sukkah, described in the Old Testament Book of Leviticus when God commands Moses to tell the Israelites to live in "booths" for seven days. But these 12 were not the common variety of the small, modestly constructed shacks where Jews symbolically celebrate their release from bondage in Egypt. Rather, they were architectural re-interpretations of the sukkah. One was made entirely out of discarded cardboard. Another had a huge log as its roof, resting on glass walls. Another looked like a huge tumbleweed. All were winners all of an unusual design competition, the genesis of which is recorded in a new documentary, Sukkah City, directed by Jason Hutt, which premiered yesterday at the Jerusalem International Film Festival.
During the weeklong holiday of Sukkot in late September or early October, observant Jews live, or simply eat their meals, in temporary enclosures ordained by God and constructed according biblical guidelines. The idea to radically transform the sukkah while following religious proscriptions was the brainchild of Joshua Foer, a writer and journalist, and Roger Bennet, a co-founder of Reboot, a non-profit group that encourages Jews disconnected from their heritage to engage in cultural and spiritual inquiry--and perhaps even reconnect with Judaism.
Hutt learned about plans for Sukkah City in the Brooklyn Arts Council newsletter requesting proposals from designers to create high-concept sukkahs. "Sukkah City sounded like the perfect application of the competition tradition--to breathe new life into an ancient archetype that, over time, has become a generic pop-up box," he told me in an email. "The design brief was basically the original biblical rules for the sukkah, and having architects and designers re-imagine it with their 21st century tools and creativity promised to be an exciting experience, and an interesting film."