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Competition: Sukkah x Detroit

The Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue has launched an international contest for a series of $10,000 temporary sukkah structures in Capitol Park, Detroit (Deadline: 25 June)

Open to architects, artists, designers and others, the competition seeks innovative proposals for between five and seven pop-up cabins which will be constructed within the historic green space in time for the week-long Jewish festival of Sukkot which runs from 23 to 30 September this year.

The project will create a series of spaces to host events celebrating the annual harvest festival which marks the end of the traditional agricultural year. The call for submissions aims to build on the farming and design traditions of the historic port city which was named a UNESCO City of Design three years ago.

Capitol Park, Detroit

Capitol Park, Detroit

Source: Image by Downtown Detroit Partnership

Capitol Park, Detroit

According to the brief: ‘Detroit, home to 1,300 urban farms, is also the only UNESCO City of Design in the United States. Sukkah x Detroit celebrates both. By soliciting contemporary sukkah design proposals for Detroit’s Capitol Park, the competition looks to combine design, agriculture, and cultural programming for this first edition of the Sukkah x Detroit event.

‘The week-long Sukkah x Detroit celebration will take place on September 23-30, 2018, as an official event in Detroit’s Month of Design. Throughout the week, five to seven sukkahs, selected through this competition, will be showcased in historic Capitol Park, located in downtown Detroit. Concurrently, a broad array of programming – farmers markets and pop-up dinners featuring local growers and chefs, educational events, and lectures by designers and architects – will activate the Sukkah x Detroit event.’

Founded by French colonists in the early 18th century, Detroit is today the largest city in Michigan and the second-largest in the Midwest after Chicago. Since the 1950s, its downtown area has witnessed a 60 per cent drop in population, leaving an array of architecturally-significant structures in need of conservation.

Capitol Park, Detroit in 1942

Capitol Park, Detroit in 1942

Source: Image by Arthur Siegel

Capitol Park, Detroit in 1942

Capitol Park is a historic downtown district laid out by Albert Kahn Associates in the late 19th century and home to many Italianate and Romanesque Revival buildings. Within the area is a small triangular plot of green space which is the original Capitol Park surviving from an earlier plan for the city.

The Jewish festival of Sukkot celebrates the annual harvest during which agricultural labourers would traditionally reside within a temporary cabin in the fields. The festival is marked by the creation of huts which are used for dining and other activities throughout the week.

The competition invites participants to reinvent the ancient ritual by proposals new innovative concepts for the huts. Submissions will be judged on their originality, habitability and constructability.

Judges include Jeff Kidorf from Albert Kahn Associates, Melinda Anderson of Design Core Detroit, and Anya Sirota from the University of Michigan’s Taubman College. The overall winners, to be announced in July, will each receive a $10,000 materials/construction budget and $5,000 design stipend.

How to apply


The deadline for applications is 25 June

Contact details


Visit the competition website for more information

Q&A with Sigal Hemy and Jodee Fishman Raines

The organizers discuss their ambitions for the competition

Sukkah x Detroit

Sukkah x Detroit

Sukkah x Detroit

Why are your holding an open international competition for a series of sukkahs in Capital Park, Detroit?

The competition honours Detroit’s design and agricultural communities through the lens of an important Jewish tradition, the annual building of a sukkah to celebrate the harvest and commemorate the Exodus from Egypt. This year, the holiday of Sukkot coincides with Detroit’s Month of Design, a design festival inspired by Detroit’s status as the only UNESCO city of design in the US. Detroit is experiencing a complex renaissance, driven in large part by its entrepreneurial and creative sectors but also fraught with racial and socioeconomic tensions. Given this backdrop, a global competition is a fitting way to explore the exciting but challenging dynamics of post-industrial cities and use thoughtful design to break through the stereotypes typically attributed to cities like Detroit.

What is your vision for how the new temporary structures?

We envision a festival that is contemporary and engaging, while at the same time authentic to tradition and place. Rather than selecting individual designs, jurors will curate a set of sukkahs that, as a whole, will serve as a platform for reimagining a historic holiday and examining themes of transience, hospitality, and community in today’s society.

Of course, contemporary practice requires designers to consider a vast array of issues: from building technology, digital fabrication, and sustainability to iconicity, craft, and materiality. We are casting the call broadly, without a predefined notion of what constitutes innovation. We imagine that as a collection, the series will offer commentary on emergent methods and pioneering architectural techniques. Temporary constructs have always challenged our preconceived notions of form and assembly associated with more permanent building practices, and the competition certainly invites designers to explore new paradigms.

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

The opportunity is open to all. Emerging and established architects, designers, landscape architects, and artists are encouraged to apply. Multi-disciplinary teams are welcome, too. The jury will review the designs without any identifying information to ensure fairness in the selection process. All applicants will be included in an exhibition at the historic Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue (on the same block as Capitol Park), and winners will also be exhibited through the American Institute of Architects, given media exposure and interview opportunities, and commemorated online. This is certainly an opportunity for emergent practices to gain exposure by contributing to large-scale urban event staged at a critical time for the future development of the city.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

Sukkah x Detroit is a one-time event driven by the confluence of Sukkot and Detroit’s Month of Design. That said, we envision the event as part of a larger dialogue about equitable and inclusive development in the city. There will continue to be many opportunities in Detroit for architects, designers and creative innovators to make an impact. In meantime, Sukkah x Detroit is an invitation to imagine new ways of activating the public realm.

Are there any other sukkah projects you have been impressed by?

Other cities have hosted sukkah design competitions, and amazing projects have certainly emerged from those efforts. What’s unique about Sukkah x Detroit is its interest in programming and collective experience. We hope the competition offers a space for people to discover design, tradition, and each other.

Canary Wharf Sukkah case study: Q&A with Marianne Kwok

The director at KPF discusses lessons learned designing a sukkah for Canary Wharf, London

How did your project deliver a Sukkah for Canary Wharf?

The Canary Wharf Sukkah is centrally located in the heart of the area’s busy Montgomery Square and is open to the public. As a temporary structure used during the weeklong Jewish festival of Sukkot, the 160m² sukkah is also larger than most of its kind to accommodate a seating of 150 people for lunch.

Canary Wharf Sukkah by KPF

Canary Wharf Sukkah by KPF

Canary Wharf Sukkah by KPF

Which architectural, material, visual and other methods did you harness in your design?

Engaging in dialogue with a local rabbi, the KPF team prioritised both natural light and privacy in correlation with the structure’s religious requirements. Since the installation is intended to be reassembled each year during the autumn festival, the design is based on a 3m-wide by 4.2m-tall typical module size, echoing the curtain wall module size of surrounding office buildings and allowing for ease of storage and construction. Each panel contains four vertical supports with wood woven horizontally between them, spaced out in the vertical dimension to allow for a balance of light transmission and visual privacy. Translucent polycarbonate sheeting lines the interior, offering additional privacy and gentle illumination. Rattan mats line the underside of the roof trusses to allow partial visibility to the sky above. The result not only gives the sukkah a warm and festive look, but it also provides structural stability to the panels.

Canary Wharf Sukkah by KPF

Canary Wharf Sukkah by KPF

Canary Wharf Sukkah by KPF

What advice would you have to contest participants on designing Sukkahs for Capitol Park in Detroit?

If the sukkah is intended for community use, it is important for any designer to have an ongoing conversation with that community’s rabbi or religious scholar. That way, they can sign off on whether the design ideas meet the standards and rules for its use. The 2010 competition for a sukkah at Union Square in New York City competition had many interesting and zany ideas; in fact, our original idea had involved a spiralled space that did not meet the religious requirements.

Canary Wharf Sukkah by KPF

Canary Wharf Sukkah by KPF

Canary Wharf Sukkah by KPF