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FRACTURED BUBBLE

The sukkah is a ritual hut built for the Jewish festival of sukkot; it is erected each year according to Jewish tradition as a temporary dwelling to commemorate the Jews exodus from Egypt. Sukkah City was conceived to rethink these traditions through the context of contemporary architectural practice.

Our design for Fractured Bubble began with a series of charettes to establish the design criterion for the final project. This became a balance between negotiating the constellations of Jewish Laws and competition rules with the desire to create a contemporary and urban take on a traditional ritual structure.

The constraints imposed by Jewish law are strict. For example, the sukkah must have at least three walls. The roof of the sukkah must be made of organic material, and it must be possible to see the stars through the roof. If it rains, water must penetrate the sukkah. The structure must provide more shade than sun. The organizers insisted that winning designs be kosher under Jewish Law, and a temporary structure according to the New York City Department of Buildings.

From the charrette came the conclusion that a sukkah is like a bubble: ephemeral and transient. It separates inside from outside with a thin, permeable membrane. Outside is the world of everyday life. Inside one gathers with loved ones turning together to look out to the world and see it fresh again, transformed. The bubble becomes the means through with the design negotiates all requirements, both Jewish Law and Building Code.

Our sukkah became a bubble made of simple materials, plywood, marsh grass and twine. Its form is a sphere, fractured into three sections. Each section is rotated around a common datum. The rotation of structural grid and puncturing of the skin are all controlled parametrically.

The circles and the twine skin the interior surface of the sukkah. The twine weaves a radial layer of crosshatch, and the circles articulate the holes in the bubble. In addition to allowing for views above to see the stars at night, the holes equally allow for the view of the city. Parametric control of the structure adjusts the holes to frame selected views from any given site, to tailor the experience of looking out through the bubble.

Because of the spherical geometry, each of the sections is both wall and roof simultaneously. Jewish Law requires a minimum of two and half walls and that the roof be made from organic material. To make Fractured Bubble kosher we provide three sections- (like walls) and we cover each section entirely with marsh grass harvested from the park (like roofs). The visitor enters through the fractures.

The roof material, or s'chach, is made of phragmites - an invasive species that has taken over New York’s wetlands. It grows fast and tall, and it is readily available for free. The phragmites attach loosely to the sukkah through randomly scattered holes in the ribs. They follow the curvature of the sections to create a crosshatched affect which provides shade from the sun. The density is calibrated such that one can still see stars at night.

On the night of September, 18, “Fractured Bubble” left a studio space in Gowanus fully assembled except for the grass. It traveled on a flat-bed truck to Union Square where it was installed in its final location. At midnight thirty hands went to work covering the structure with phragmites. “Fractured Bubble” opened to the public on the morning of September 19 at 7:00am. That day over 150,000 people visited Sukkah City.