The Jewish Outlook
SukkahCity Austin Attracts Unique Designs from Lone Star States Texas and Israel
Monday, 01 October 2012
By Tonyia Cone

StarGazerThis Sukkot, Jewish Austinites can include a reimagining and renewal of the sukkah in their holiday celebrations thanks to SukkahCity Austin 2012, the Jewish Community Center of Austin’s design competition for students, professional artists, architects and designers of all faiths and backgrounds from the Lone Star States of Texas and Israel.

Sukkot (Feast of Booths/ Feast of Tabernacles) is a weeklong biblical holiday, one of three pilgrimage festivals (Shalosh Regalim) along with Passover and Shavuot when the Children of Israel were commanded to make their way to the Temple in Jerusalem. Agricultural in origin, Sukkot also commemorates the fragile dwellings inhabited by the Israelites during the 40 years of wandering in the desert following the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. Throughout the holiday observant Jews eat meals inside the sukkah and many sleep there as well. On each weekday of the holiday, symbolic blessings are recited over the lulav and etrog, four species of plants mentioned in the Torah.

In order to participate in SukkahCity Austin, competitors submitted contemporary sukkah shelter designs with written descriptions of concept and architectural renderings of a constructible structure.

Eligible sukkot (the plural of sukkah) had to adhere to Talmudic law.

Aliza Orent, director of Jewish Life and Learning at the JCC, explained that SukkahCity Austin was inspired by Reboot’s Sukkah City: NYC and SukkahCity STL and served as an extraordinary opportunity to connect the city’s Jewish community to a group of people not usually targeted through outreach programs – architects.

Orent noted that finalists were selected by a distinguished jury of architects, designers and critics.

SukkahCity Austin partnered with Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, the WIZO Neri Bloomfield School of Design and Education and the Consulate General of Israel to the Southwest.

Finalists were awarded a $750 grant to be used in the development and implementation of their sukkot, which were built in only two days.

Along with other traditional congregational and community sukkot, the structures were built on the Dell Jewish Community Campus and on the roof of Whole Foods Market at 6th and Lamar.

The sukkot will be on display through October 10.

Austin Jewish Academy, Early Childhood Program and PJ Library events will be held in conjunction with SukkahCity Austin.

Orent explained why Austin was a particularly good fit for SukkahCity.

“Austin is a city in tune with its environment, respectful of the land, and very much into natural habitat and the outdoors,” she said.

Applicants were required to address many environmental questions.

The program also appealed to her because it gets people not usually connected to Sukkot thinking outside the box about living a nomadic life in a temporary shelter connected to the Earth.

“I love the idea of how you create and re-imagine an artistic sukkah,” said Orent, who has a background in fine arts.

“SukkahCity is a great way to educate people about Sukkot in a non-traditional fashion.”

In Israel, the SukkahCity Austin competition was especially promoted at the two Haifa schools, including as part of  a “Dynamic Structures” class where students were assigned the task of completing and submitting the project.

Israeli Tamara Ganor, one of the finalists, found the project an especially interesting assignment given that most secular Israelis do not typically build their own sukkot and are not intimately knowledgeable about the Jewish laws involved in designing one. “This was a fascinating project for Tal Levy and me,” she said.

The challenge of building a temporary structure and the biblical roots of the holiday, Orent believes, also attracted many Christians to enter the competition.

Janice Miller Abrams, a member of the SukkahCity Austin Committee, pointed out that a sukkah is an inclusive structure that welcomes nature, joyousness, and all people.

“Every aspect of it- from intention to construction to habitation- creates community. To be given the opportunity to design a sukkah and then see that idea realized is compelling to all designers. To address the notions of homelessness, transience, tradition, surroundings, and meditation, to name only a few, are not just Jewish ideas but universal themes,” she said.

“I think SukkahCity Austin bumps it up a notch, in terms of combining Jewish life and culture in an artistic and creative way. The JCC features plenty of art displays on the walls and great music and theater, but we’ve never done anything like this before,” Orent concluded.

For more information, visit

SukkahCity Austin Committee
Janice Abrams
Debra Hurt
Allison Jaffe
Ruth Katry
Rebecca Levy
Jill May
Joan Swartz
Lital Yaacob
Shelly Prant, JCC Executive Director
Aliza Orent, JCC Director of Jewish Life and Learning

Robert Abzug, director of the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies at UT-Austin.
Kevin Alter (SukkahCity Austin 2012 Chair), associate dean for graduate programs at UT-Austin School of Architecture and principal Alterstudio
Michael Barnes, Austin American-Statesman reporter and columnist
Michael Benedikt, Hal Box Chair in Urbanism and director of the Center for American Architecture and Design at UT-Austin.
Joan Davidow, former director of Dallas Contemporary.
Sue Graze, former executive director of Arthouse and UT-Austin Department of Art and Art History faculty
Els Verbakel, founding partner of Derman Verbakel Architecture and lecturer in architecture at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.
Mark Word, landscape architect and owner of Mark Word Design.

SukkahCity Austin 2012 Finalists
StarGazer by Tiger Lyon of Spring, Texas
Sukkah I Solar + Lunar by Erica Quinones of Austin, Texas
Soundcloud by Meg Jackson, Michael Gonzales, Preetal Shah and Felipe Cosio of Houston, Texas
Celebrate>Mitigate an Ecologically-Performative Sukkah for Texas by Gregory Marinic (Principal), Kevin Pham, David Yao and
Nick Herrera of Houston, Texas
Sew-Sow-Sukkah by Margaret Saunders, Emily Scarfe and Alisa West of Austin, Texas
Sukkah Shalom by Peter Raab and Nick Steshyn of Lubbock and Austin, Texas
D.I.Y. Community Sukkah by Tal Levy and Tamara Ganor of Haifa, Israel

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