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Local sukkah-building contest raises funds for affordable housing

The Oculus design
An artist’s rendering of the Oculus design.

Sukkahville, an annual design competition, will display three original sukkah exhibits designed by Toronto university students, while shining a light on the affordable housing crisis.

Nancy Singer, executive director of the Kehilla Residential Programme, a housing agency that lobbies policy makers and developers to present solutions to making affordable housing more accessible, said the event, which is in part a fundraiser for its rental assistance program, is a celebration of local talent.

She said until last year the contest was open to schools internationally, but organizers decided to keep it local this year, with the three finalists coming from Ryerson University, University of Toronto and OCAD University.


“The last two years, Ryerson has won and the judges, who don’t know where the entries are coming from, selected four of the eight finalists last year from Ryerson. So we thought, ‘Why not stick with local talent and showcase it? We have it,’” Singer said.

She said the competition is “about how you can take a Jewish symbol and turn it into something that has a much broader appeal. It is not just about the Jewish community, it’s about poverty, affordable housing, and the needs of the community in which we all live.”

The three modular sukkah designs will be on display at Toronto’s Design Exchange from Sept. 22 – 25.

The winning design will be selected on Sept. 22 by a jury that includes Design Exchange president and CEO Shauna Levy, Umbra’s founding partner Paul Rowan, and Globe and Mail architecture writer John Bentley Mays.

Following the announcement of the winning submission, there will be a panel discussion, moderated by Conservative senator Linda Frum. City of Toronto chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat, Liberal MP Adam Vaughan, real estate developer Steve Diamond, and urban designer Ken Greenberg will sit on the panel.

As part of Sukkahville, there will be a walking tour of what was “The Ward”  – a Toronto neighbourhood bound by College, Queen, and Yonge streets, and University Avenue where 19th- and early 20th-century immigrants struggled to thrive in Canadian society – led by John Lorinc and Ellen Scheinberg, editors of The Ward: The Life and Loss of Toronto’s First Immigrant Neighbourhood.

There will also be a lecture about Jewish poverty by Sandi Pelly, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s director of capacity building for the social services, and Beth Tzedec Congregation’s Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl will address students from Toronto-area schools about Sukkot and Sukkahville.

Sukkahville designers and Kehilla staff will be on site at the exhibit to answers any questions about each of three finalist designs.

The Seventh Oasis, submitted by the OCAD team, serves as “a symbol of hope and vitality in a wilderness that showed otherwise – a reminder that in the midst of desolation and loneliness, there is guidance. The Seventh Oasis consists of modular pieces each resembling a lulav leaf with seven leaflets. Enclosed into the shape of a spiral, the space offers protection from the elements and opens to the heaven above.”

A team from Ryerson designed Oculus, a dome arrangement that borrowed from the concept of arba minim, or the four kinds, that “allows natural light to penetrate the structure to ensure the interior illumination, while the canvas allows artificial light to radiate outward.”

U of T’s submission, Behind the White, is composed of a series of hanging white cotton ropes that “encloses space in a seemingly immaterial and ephemeral manner and attempts to reimagine the definition of boundary, space, and use of a sukkah… Behind the White unfolds a heavenly ambience in a shape of a cylinder that is peripherally enclosed but dramatically exposed on the top.”

Singer said that for the first time this year, Sukkahville includes a technical jury to vet the designs to determine if they are feasible, practical, and economical. “We never had that before and it really made a lot of sense,” she said. “We hope that the winning sukkah can actually be manufactured.”

The sukkahs will be for sale for $1,800 each, with the proceeds going to Kehilla.

For more information, visit www.sukkahville2016.eventbrite.com.

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