One sukka stands alone in Union Square. Its spherical shape and woven “eyes” offer a dramatic revisioning of the traditional model, but the thatching all around offers a familiar visual welcome to the holiday of Sukkot.
Designed by New Jersey native Henry Grosman and partner Babak Bryan, “Fractured Bubble” won the People’s Choice Award from among 12 finalists in a sukka-design competition that culminated Sept. 19-20 in Manhattan’s Union Square Park.
The entry by Grosman, who grew up in West Orange attending Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, was one of over 600 submissions by architects in 43 countries. Of the 12 finalists, only “Fractured Bubble” will remain in the park through the week-long holiday.
Finalists were selected based on conceptual vision and beauty. Designs had to be kosher and buildable for under $10,000. (One sukka was damaged on the trip to Union Square and could not be displayed.)
Contest organizers hoped to bring attention to a holiday that has fallen off the radar screen of many American Jews. Although impossible to measure the impact, the sukkot in the square was a true New York City phenomenon. Early Sunday morning, for example, as people discovered the exhibit, some reached for their cell phones to advise friends to come and see; others were asking what the huts were for and what the holiday was all about, while children scrambled into the only sukka not roped off for safety reasons by New York City’s Parks Department.
An estimated 150,000 people came through the square on Sunday alone; over 16,000 cast votes for their favorite among the 12 in person or on the New York magazine website, and the winner was announced at 5:30 p.m. on Monday by NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
In a phone interview Tuesday morning, Grosman, who now lives in Queens, said, “The best part of winning was that we didn’t have to deal with dis-assembly last night!”
Then he added, “I’m not going to lie. We really wanted to win. And it was really exciting. But the best part of the process was building the sukka and getting to hang out with our friends and family.”
He said he also loved “having strangers take pictures in front of our sukka and telling us they really loved it. Winning was great. But that part was really marvelous.”
The competition was launched by journalist Joshua Foer and Reboot cofounder Roger Bennett.
All finalist entries will be auctioned off, with proceeds benefiting Housing Works, an organization providing aid to homeless people and those with AIDS.