Shelter of four: Ryerson architecture team reimagines the sukkah

The last piece of the structure titled “Shelter of Four” proved to be the most difficult to put into place. The wood panel wasn’t sliding into the pre-cut slats of the base and the team had just run out of screws to connect it. But with some minor adjustments and a quick run to the nearby hardware store, the last panel fit snugly into the installation. The structure was ready for the Sukkahville 2015 International Design Competition and Exhibition, which was held from Sept. 25 to 27.

“Shelter of Four” was designed by third-year Ryerson architecture students Kaya Kim and Deena Jamokha. The pair said they found out really late about the submission date, but were honoured to be part of the competition.

“We really rushed it. We finished the design in like three days and then submitted it,” Kim said with a laugh. “Last year some people in our year got first place, I think. We were like, ‘If they can do it, we can do it.’”

Kim and Jamokha’s ambition and hard work paid off with a second place award for their sukkah. Ryerson students swept this year’s competition, with one team taking first place and another getting honourable mention.

The annual competition features eight international finalists who re-design the traditional sukkah. The event is hosted and organized by Kehilla Residential Programme, a housing agency in the Jewish community. The competition focuses on the need for affordable housing.

“Sukkahs are temporary housing, and we are Jewish communal, so we’re highlighting the need (for) temporary shelter,” said Lisa Lipowitz, the director of community initiatives at the Kehilla Residential Programme.

Kim and Jamokha described their sukkah as an oval being rotated, with each wood panel shifting slightly in angle and shape. Originally designed as a square, the pair changed the shape to an oval to make the installation more natural.

“The angles seemed too rough, and it didn’t make sense as to why we were using angles, because sukkahs are very natural and organic, and they’re full of curves,” said Jamokha.

The name “Shelter of Four” comes from the four plants that are cut into the front and back of the installation, called arba’a minim, which are significant to the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. Sukkahs are built to commemorate the 40 years the Jewish people spent wandering and living in shelters in the desert. The four plants — citron, date palm, willow and myrtle trees — were materials that created the traditional sukkahs, which is why the pair incorporated them into their installation.

Lipowitz said this year’s turnout for the exhibition and competition was a success. “Every year I think we can’t cap ourselves, and every year I’m delighted to be wrong. This has been the best year yet,” she said.

Although Kim and Jamokha didn’t win first place, they’re proud that their structure worked out and that they were part of the exhibition.

“We don’t really care about winning,” said Kim.

“We’re just happy it’s up,” said Jamokha.

Photos by Karen Chan