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Re-Imagining the Sukkah

The contemporary and purpose-driven sukkah designs from eight finalists are on display at Toronto’s Sukkahville this weekend

Hannah Vaitsblit
September 25, 2015

On Friday, Sukkahville 2015, a 3-day international design exhibition in Toronto, Canada, kicks off in a monumental way—with a sukkah design competition. Of the more than 80 architects, builders, developers, planners, realtors, interior designers, and students who entered the contest—they were challenged to “re-imagine” the sukkah as a vessel for engaging in a conversation on affordable housing—only eight were chosen as finalists. Their sukkah designs are on now on display in Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square.

Sukkahville is the brainchild of Toronto UJA Federation’s official non-profit housing agency, the Kehilla Residential Programme, which aims to develop affordable housing initiatives within Toronto’s Jewish community “through education, awareness, project sponsorship, development consultation, and research and property management.” The competition was inaugurated in 2011, in response to New York’s 2010 “Sukkah City” exhibition, said Kehilla Director Nancy Singer.

This year’s top designs, to be judged by a jury of leading professionals, including Toronto’s Chief City Planner, Jennifer Keesmat, were submitted by entrants from Stockholm, Sweden and Parma, Italy as well as Milwaukee, New York, and Toronto. Interestingly enough, none of the submissions come from people with Jewish backgrounds, although many of the volunteers behind the scenes are Jewish.

While recognizing the ritualistic character of the sukkah, Sukkahville intends to explore conceptual themes behind the structure, encouraging the development of public art to galvanize attention toward affordable housing. Featured are Swedish artist Ulf Merjergren’s exploration of Jewish origins through his rugged, earthy straw-and-rope sukkah, titled Roots, as well as New York-based urban architecture agency limonLAB’s sleek, geometric Seek&Hide Sukkah, which filters natural light through layers of cotton scrim, playfully blurring the lines between interior and exterior.

In addition to the finalists’ designs, Sukkahville will showcase works by winners of the sukkah competition from previous years, as well as a sukkah comprised of condominium sale signs created by visual artist Dan Bergeron, among other projects.

“Condos are not affordable to many people in the city,” Singer said, which is why Bergeron’s piece makes a “great statement” in the conversation on affordable housing. The setting of Sukkahville in Nathan Phillips Square, formerly the home of St. John’s Ward, an immigrant slum dating back to 1850, is also particularly relevant, Singer noted.

“People are very surprised to learn that there are about 24,000 Jewish poor in Toronto—it’s a myth that Jews can ‘always take care of their own,’” Singer told Jewish arts and culture website Mashu Mashu earlier this month.

Hannah Vaitsblit is an intern at Tablet.

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