My second cousin by marriage (it’s a long story), architect Henry Grosman, is one of a dozen winners of the Sukkah City NYC 2010 design competition. On display in Union Square Park, each sukkah was created by an architect (or team of architects) in consultation with a rabbi to address issues of kashrut. Henry’s design (created with Babak Bryan, and winner of the People’s Choice Award) is spherical in shape with three rounded walls. It is constructed from plywood, marsh grass and twine. Here is a photo of the finished product:
and another in this link. Here is a video which includes comments from the various winners (including Henry, the last one):
Sukkah City is a fascinating competition challenging Jewish and non-Jewish architects to create sukkahs that expand the typical rectangular back-yard sukkah with three or four walls and tree-branch schach, thinking outside the box but still within the constraints of halachic sukkah design. I think it’s cool that New York hosts this competition which is artistic, educational, highly entertaining, and inspires people to think about this holiday which goes largely unobserved in the greater American Jewish community.
Below are descriptions of each sukkah including issues of halachot sukkah by Dani Passow, the rabbinical consultant to the project (and rabbinical intern at our shul in America).
Sukkah of the signs
The original design was for a tower with slanted straight walls that then began to angle forming a slanted roof, all of which was made out of cardboards signs. The cardboard signs would not have been kosher schach since although they are organic, their material has been processed so that it doesn’t closely resemble its original form. Additionally, there was an oculus (gap) at the top which meant that most of the sukkah would not have been covered by schach. If this gap were large enough (7×7 handbreadths) and filled in with schach, then it would have become kosher. That was my suggestion.
They ended up altering the design, basically turning it on its side. Again, they wanted to use signs as the schach. The architects and I talked about replacement material that would have been kosher but still resembled signs. We chose Oriented Strand Board (OSB) which is made of small pieces of wood pressed together, but the wood is still quite visible as wood, thus it resembles its original form and is kosher. The designers decided, in the end, to use conventional greenery as schach.
Though the shims here can twist, this isn’t a problem since in order to twist they require a significant force and a specific angle and won’t move in a standard wind. As long as shims for the schach are oriented such that they provide more shade than sun, it’s kosher.
A circular sukkah is kosher as long at it circumscribes a square of 7 x 7 handbreadths. The bubble needs to be fully inflated to withstand a standard wind, and maybe even tied down. Additionally, the schach hangs directly from non-kosher scach material; this a machloket achronim of maamid – a gezaira that someone might come to think this material is kosher schach, and while the Mishnah Berurah says we should be machmir and we generally are quite careful about this, bebdiavad the MB says it’s kosher.
It is totally fine for the walls and schach to be made of the same material. Here, since the kosher schach, the wood, is supported by metal screws, we again have an issue of maamid.
A sukkah with 2.5 walls is kosher. All of the walls, to be considered kosher, need to come within 3 handbreadths of the ground and be at least 7 handbreadths long unless the special, and somewhat complex, halachic device of tzurat hapetach is utilized. Here, there are only two kosher walls since though there is half a wall, it doesn’t come within 3 handbreadths of the ground. But, this third wall is only peeled back so observers can get a full view of the inside of the sukkah. Unfolding that wall would make the sukkah kosher. Additionally, the walls are not quite taut enough, thus they blow in the wind which is a problem, but if they are tied down more tautly , they would be fine. There is also an issue of maamid here as the kosher schach is supported by cotton lining.
Repetition Meets Difference
A circular sukkah is kosher . This design needs some more schach so that the schach provides more shade than sun. Additionally, though the walls may seem porous, since there is less than 3 handbreadths between solid material, the halachic concept of lavud is employed that views the empty space between solid material as filled as long as the gap is no greater than 3 handbreadths (about 10.5 inches).
This design is composed of one steel wire greater than 5 miles long coiled around itself. It is perfectly okay for the walls to be composed of steel, but not the schach. Hanging from the schach is a flower bed which is kosher schach. The metal wire hovering above the flower bed is diffuse enough that more sun shines through than shade. Thus, if the kosher schach, the flower bed, is dense enough to provide more shade than sun, this is kosher. Some more schach needs to be added to this design.
Additionally, halacha allows for the spreading of a canopy of non-kosher schach above kosher schach as long as it is within 4 handbreadths of the kosher schach and is for an aesthetic purpose, not to provide shade or protection of any kind. This metal material serves both to support the kosher schach and as decoration. It might, therefore, be permitted to even have the metal provide more shade than sun. Also, the designers worked hard to avoid maamid here. They hung the flower bed from metal using organic leaves of some kind that are kosher for schach. Maamid isn’t an issue if the kosher schach is supported by non-kosher schach indirectly, only if it is supported directly.
This material, called rattan, is similar to bamboo and is kosher schach. Though the walls and schach are made from the same continuous material, this is fine as long as, at some point, the walls are vertically oriented or the roof is horizontally oriented as this distinguishes between the two. There are only 2 walls here, the back and left side as seen in the picture. The front could easily become a wall using the concept of lavud: placing parallel strips of material within 3 handbreadths of each other. This was my suggestion, though it was never implemented by the designer.
Some material that was ordered for this design ended up not being what the designer anticipated. There is supposed to be material covering the roof and hanging down to the ground creating a more cubic form. As the design is presented, none of the walls meet to form a corner. A kosher sukkah needs to have at least two walls meet to form one corner. The original design would have satisfied this requirement. Also, there is not enough schach, but the original design would have satisfied that as the missing material is kosher schach material.
A spherical shape is kosher as are rounded walls. Here, there are 3 rounded walls. The only question is that as the walls are split (the sphere looks like it is cracked) they may be too far apart from each other thus not forming a corner. As long as at least two walls are within 3 handbreadths of each other at a height of 10 handbreadths (the minimum height of a sukkah), then this is kosher. I believe it meets that requirement.
Schach cannot be made out of a wooden board that is greater than 4 handbreadths wide since it too closely resembles roof of a permanent home. But a tree branch that is greater than 4 handbreadths wide is fine. Additionally, to reinforce the difference between the impermanence of schach and the permanence of a standard home, four 1-inch diameter holes were bored through the log so that rain could enter.