The Art of Building a Sukkah

Award-winning architects, Henry Grossman and Babak Bryan, were called in to build a sukkah for Congregation Beth Elohim’s Sukkot celebration.

You may want to wear a hard hat while walking on the west side of Eighth Avenue at Garfield place, well, at least until sun down on Wednesday. 

To honor Sukkot, or The Feast of Tabernacles which is a joyous Jewish harvest holiday, is building a 10-foot tall sukkah.

“One of the reasons we build them this time of year is to recount the exodus from Egypt and remember our humble origins as Jews,” said Rabbi Andy Bachman, who was on a ladder slipping pieces of two-by-four on to the rebar-enforced structure. “We are commanded to eat in it, sleep in it, and be reminded of the fragility of life, especially considering the Israelites’ 40-year pilgrimage to Israel from slavery in Egypt.”

During the second day of construction on Wednesday the structure, which is made from stacked two-by-fours held together by bent rebar, was almost complete. But the busy corner, sprinkled with sawdust, was nearly blocked by piles of wood and, well, the giant sukkah. 

But the sukkah-in-progress on the sidewalk outside of Congregation Beth Elohim can be considered an architectural work of art. To make this holiday special, Rabbi Andy Bachmann called upon the award-winning and Brooklyn-based architects, Henry Grossman and Babak Bryan of the firm BanG Studio. The duo won the Sukkah City contest, a citywide sukkah-building competition in Union Square, last year for their design “Fractured Bubble.”

“I called them to design a sukkah that our community could actually eat, sleep and pray in,” said Bachman while he took a break, as the crew of nine kept banging away, for it must be finished before Sukkot officially begins at sun down.

Grossman and Bryan named their design “In the Field.” Once complete, the exposed rebar lattices on top will be covered by Spanish moss and the walls inside will be covered by laser-cut leaves, which were painted yellow, red and orange by the children of the Congregation.

“For us the title means two things: one is that it is a poetic description of the sense and sensation with the leaves painted orange, yellow and red hung inside to make a field-like quality,” Bryan said as he was looking at the hut. “Two, the design of this sukkah came when we got the call from the Rabbi to build one for him in short notice. We didn’t have the time like we had for the last one, which required all sorts of precision cutting and measuring. We decided that every design decision is going to be made in the field.”

Bryan explained that the system they came up with, to bend rebar, cut wood, drill holes into the pieces and stack it in place to build a big and durable sukkah was borne from the "in the field” mentality.

Bachman explained that historians believe the ancient Israelites built similar huts in the fields during the harvest season. He said they would stay out in the huts for a couple of weeks while they gathered the bounty.  

Once the Spanish moss and leaves are in place Bachmann said that the sukkah, which has no floor, will be complete. He also said that it is to be kept empty except for a table to eat on and people who are there to eat, pray and sleep.

“I am going to sleep in here with my kids one night,” Bachman said, explaining that he will crash on the concrete in a sleeping bag with his kids, ages 9, 11 and 14, in the sukkah during the holiday. “We probably won’t get a good night rest because of all the sirens roaring down the Avenue, but we are doing it to get in touch with our humble roots.”


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