Sukkahs, Homeless Shelter Coming to Union Square

Sukkahs, Homeless Shelter Coming to Union Square

“Her name is Rain. San Francisco.” Her sign will become part of Rael San Fratello

In less than a month, a dozen sukkahs will descend on Union Square, part of the first annual Sukkah City celebration, a modern take on an ancient Jewish structure/holiday thought up by writer Joshua Foer and Reboot founder Roger Bennett. We first revealed the project back in the spring, and now the winning sukkahs have been selected. We spoke with Foer about the entrants, the process, and the winners, a few of which we even managed to scare up (though the rest are being saved for a certain newspaper in another square uptown).


Foer told us in the spring that he hoped to thoroughly investigate the complexity and variety found within the relatively strict confines of the sukkah, a ritual harvest structure. These include as that it be certain dimensions, made from organic material, and impermanent. Foer said he was blown away with the results.

We had over 600 entrants, so it was really a diverse set of answer to how this structure could be imagined. Some designers engaged with the idea of ephemerality. Some engaged directly with the idea of collective memory, a structure meant to provoke collective memory. Some engaged with the idea that the structure confront social justice issues. […] Some of the structures were just little beautiful jewels that are just stunning little pavilions. The idea is that the 12 together will speak to the diversity of responses. It’s not the 12 best sukkahs but the one best sukkah city.

THEVERYMANY’s entry “blossoms” when rained upon, a nod to the sukkah’s organic nature. (Courtesy THEVERYMAN)

The dozen winners are:

  • Kyle May and Scott Abrahams – New York, NY
  • Dale Suttle, So Sugita, and Ginna Nguyen – New York, NY
  • SO-IL – Brooklyn, NY
    In Tension
  • Matter Practice – Brooklyn, NY
    Single Thread
  • THEVERYMANY – Brooklyn, NY
    P.YGROS.C / passive hygroscopic curls
  • Bittertang – Brooklyn, NY
    Bio Puff
  • Henry Grosman and Babak Bryan – Long Island City, NY
    Fractured Bubble
  • tinder, tinker – Sagle, ID
    Shim Sukkah
  • Ronald Rael, Virginia San Fratello – Oakland, CA
    Sukkah of the Signs
  • Volkan Alkanoglu – Los Angeles, CA
    Star Cocoon
  • Matthias Karch – Berlin, Germany
    Repetition meets Difference | Stability meets Volatileness
  • Peter Sagar – United Kingdom

Even though the competition was open to Jews and gentiles alike, and there were entries from 43 countries, one can’t help but wonder if therein lies the explanation for so many New York City firms—as Alvy Singer might say, we New Yorkers all a little Jewish. Of the three entries we’ve actually seen, Rael San Fratello’s is probably the most interesting. The Suttle, Sugita, and Nguyen entry, Gathering, seems to fall into Foer’s first category, of challenging the temporal nature of Sukkot, with a wooden structure that can take on countless shapes, never being the same twice, constantly shifting and relocating and redefining itself, like the Jews. THEVERYMANY’s P.YGROS.C / passive hygroscopic curls seems to be a clear example of the jewels, a lustrous green gem, a challenge of formalism, to be marveled at from inside and out as it redefines itself around its environment.

“He was reluctant to give up his sign, until he understood the project and was then happy to let us have it. Friend of ‘Homeless Hungry.’ Mission District, San Francisco.” (Courtesy Rael San Fratello)

Yet it is Sukkah of Signs that is most audacious in its scope and, we imagine, shape, as it tackles “>tikkun olam. Rael and San Fratello have gone about collecting signs from homeless people in the Bay Area and, with the help of volunteers, from across the country, in what they’re calling “The Homeless House Project.” Somehow, they’re going to repurpose these into a sukkah, a challenge we can’t wait to see in action. Best of all, as Foer points out, “It’s really great because they’re basically transferring their award money to the homeless population,” as each sign is gotten in exchange for a donation.

Inside Gathering. (Courtesy Sukkah City)

As for construction, well, that’s something Foer wonders about with a number of the winners. “They’re all 100 percent kosher structures, designed in consultation with rabbis and structural engineers,” he said. “A couple of winners, I’ll be impressed if they can pull it off.”

Sukkah City arrives in Union Square September 19 and 20. Once designs are unveiled next month on the Sukkah City website, voting will commence for the “people’s sukkah,” which will remain in the square for all eight days of Sukkot. For the rest of the holiday, the remaining structures will be dispersed to sites across the city, extending the celebration far and wide.