Sukkah 2016 / 5777

Temporary shelter made from election yard signs.

Status: built and dismantled in September 2016.

In this supercharged 2016 election year, our sukkah simply had to speak to the political climate.  The August primary elections provided ample waste material for construction.  This sukkah is built from 50 yard signs, symbolically one for each state in the union.  They are installed upside down partly as commentary on the whole election process and partly to indicate that the candidates on these signs were the losers in our primary.

Election yard signs are made from two faces of polypropylene plastic with ribs between in a cellular structure somewhat like corrugated cardboard.  The square shaped cells run vertically which allows metal wire to be inserted into the cells to hold the signs upright.

I exploited the wire insertion method to connect signs to each other both vertically and horizontally.  The exterior of the sukkah is a zig zag folded wall of signs, lightweight yet quite sturdy.  It is unable to carry any weight, however.  So the branches of the roof are held aloft by an independent wood trellis structure made from salvaged fir flooring boards.

Even though the plastic yard signs and the metal wickets that hold them up are both made from recyclable material, there is no ability to actually recycle them in Seattle.  That means that not only did this year's sukkah end up in the landfill, but so does every one of the election yard signs that litter our city every two years.  There must be a better way!

Sukkah 2015 / 5776

Temporary shelter made from salvaged chimney bricks.

Status: built and dismantled in September and October 2015.

We converted our furnace to a gas condensing type and replaced our water heater with an electric heat pump.  That meant our utility chimney was no longer needed to exhaust flue gases.  So after 105 years of service, we dismantled it and used the bricks for this year's sukkah.

It took an entire day with a hammer and cold chisel to chip off the old limestone mortar.  Fortunately it was aged and crumbled fairly easily.  The bricks themselves were in fairly good condition. They were Duwamish bricks, dug from the mud of Seattle's principal river and fired at fairly low temperature.  Because they were intended for a utilitarian chimney, they were neither flat faced nor of uniform dimension.

The chimney yielded about 600 bricks.  That was just enough to build a 6 foot diameter circle almost 6 feet high.  Spacing the bricks was a necessity to make that quantity extend that diameter and height.  The spaces created a wonderful closed yet open effect when viewed from the inside.

The weather was marginal and our schedule was hectic, so we really only enjoyed one lovely warm evening of convivial conversation with eight of us circled cozily around the table just inside the brick enclosure.

At the end of the holiday, the bricks were taken to Portland, Oregon of all places to have a third life as the footpath for a church.

Sukkah 2013 / 5774

Temporary shelter made from discarded furniture.

Status: built and dismantled September 2013

For this year's sukkah I turned to an abundant source of salvaged materials: the curbsides in my neighborhood. Every piece of furniture was collected within a 1/2 mile by 1 mile area, over a 3 week period in August 2013 (see red dots in map above).

When you consider that my collection area is but a fragment of my city, which in turn is a minuscule bit of our country, it boggles the mind to consider how much unwanted junk furniture gets discarded in the USA.

And junk it was. The cheap materials and shoddy construction of every piece destined them for the landfill from the day each was made. Only quality furniture of enduring value enjoys a long life in antique shops and people's homes.

Ironically, my collection of "free" furniture cost a whopping $140 to discard at the landfill plus $60 to rent the truck to haul it there. No wonder people leave this useless stuff on the sidewalk!

For the roof, bamboo struts support a salvaged rattan chair dome in the center. The branches cast an intricate shadow pattern on the insides of the stacked furniture. Each couch stands on its own, and the stacked chairs are surprisingly stable.

The weather was glorious all week long, except for one memorable evening when a rogue shower drenched us in minutes.

Sukkah 2012 / 5773

Temporary shelter made from salvaged plastic lumber.

Status: built and dismantled October 2012

The demolition of a nearby deck provided the raw material for our sukkah this year, for no cost (screws cost $10). The boards are HDPE plastic, themselves made from 100% recycled milk jugs. They have more flex than wood boards, so I decided to form a curved wall instead of squared walls. The boards were used in the lengths we got them, which is about six feet.

As in the source deck, the boards were installed with gaps between to simplify the joinery and to admit a restricted view and daylight through the walls. Every fourth board is set to the interior to give the wall surface some rhythm. At the doorway I simply left out a few boards.

For the roof, jute twine was woven in a Spirograph pattern to leave an oculus opening in the center. The criss crossing twine provides support for the branches everywhere else except for the center hole.

The weather was warm during the day and chilly but clear at night. Another Sukkot without rain. This design was both roomy enough to be comfortable and sufficiently enclosed to feel private and cozy.

At the end of the week, the boards were sold through Craig's List and went on to become somebody else's new (salvaged) decking.

Sukkah 2011 / 5772

Temporary shelter made from salvaged wood lath and salvaged metal can lids.

Status: built and dismantled October 2011

Following last year's debacle, this year called for a spacious and bright interior. A geodesic dome interpreted in salvaged materials made for a spectacular shelter, if not a halachically correct sukkah (the walls should be solid).

Though simple in concept, a Bucky dome is a precise geometry that I never could have figured out without the calculator at desertdomes.com. I spent a full day of preparation cutting 165 wood struts to three specific lengths, drilling their ends, and drilling 61 can lids in 4-, 5-, or 6-hole patterns.

Assembly of the parts was quick, taking just one hour to raise the entire dome. The lids had just enough flex to obviate the normal need to bend the strut ends. As it rose in successive rows, the frame was quite stable and rigid once the last strut was placed.

The weather was mixed, with the cool of autumn evenings that we normally encounter alternating with light rain.

Materials cost $23 for 300 screws, but the wood lath was salvaged from a friend's kitchen remodel and the metal can lids were begged from three local pizza restaurants.

At the end of the week, the wood lath and metal lids were taken to the recycling center to live a third life at places unknown to me.

Sukkah 2010 / 5771

Temporary shelter made from salvaged PVC poles and salvaged cloth.

Status: built and dismantled September 2010

Sometimes the muse abandons my imagination. The day before the holiday found me with no concept for this year's sukkah. So I went with a familiar primitive shelter, perhaps the most iconic of the Americas.

Unfortunately, teepees do not succeed at a reduced scale. Their steep walls quickly reduce headroom and interior space to the uninhabitable. We could not even sit on chairs, but instead crouched on low stones and ate from plates perched on our laps. To make matters worse, it rained nearly every day and the wet cloth sagged inwards.

Materials cost only $20 for a few PVC poles. The cloth was free, salvaged from a drama warehouse.

I did learn the technique for lashing the poles together near the top, then splaying each pole around the perimeter. Done properly, a considerable weight can be hung from a rope in the center and supported by the legs.

At the end of the week, the poles were returned for full credit and the cloth was dried, folded, and stored for future uses.

Sukkah 2009 / 5770

Temporary shelter made from salvaged lumber, salvaged wood lath, and used bed sheets.

Status: built and dismantled October 2009

After such a spare simple sukkah last year, it was time to get complex. This year's design is two concentric octagons, each rotated relative to the other, with our dining table forming the third octagon, also rotated.

The aesthetic of this sukkah was inspired by an old wood roller coaster. Its structure is prominently visible and external to the space enclosed. The wood members map the structural loads as they trace down, yet in reverse they lead the eye skywards.

The weather was glorious! Not a drop of rain the entire week, a first for normally rainy Seattle. Our al fresco dining was enhanced by a full moon if we dallied long enough over wine and conversation.

Materials cost only $16, a must given the dire state of the national economy. Since we had saved the wood panels from last year's sukkah, we dismantled them and reused the pieces to build this year's. We scrounged three different color bed sheets for the wall covering.

At the end of the week, the lath was taken to the recycling center to be turned into wood chips for landscape mulch, but the studs are being saved for next year.

Sukkah 2008 / 5769

Temporary shelter made from salvaged lumber and salvaged wood lath.

Status: built and dismantled October 2008

Early 20th century houses in Seattle are pretty much 100% Douglas fir: structure, windows, siding, finished flooring, trim...almost everything. An extensive remodel provided us with a load of rough sawn fir lath and a couple dozen smooth planed fir 2x3s.

The form of this sukkah derived from the nature of the specific materials used to build it, with a little influence from the pages of Dwell magazine. A perfect 8'x8'x8' cube made from just that one material, it is simplicity itself.

In a real building wall, lath is gapped to allow the plaster to key into the cracks, but after experimentation with spacing, I decided to set the lath tight to minimize view and to just allow slivers of light to penetrate to the interior. Because it held plaster for a century, the lath was slightly blanched from the lime on one side, which I placed on the interior.

The weather was pretty good, but our schedules were hectic so we only ate a handful of meals in the sukkah. The interior felt comfortable and the light effects were exquisite.

Materials cost nothing at all, construction took just one day, but only after a first full day spent removing a zillion tiny lath nails. The sukkah panels were carefully stored for the winter and then exhibited for the month of April 2009 in an art gallery as part of the Seattle Jewish Film Festival.

Sukkah 2007 / 5768

Temporary shelter made from salvaged lumber, salvaged wood doors, salvaged window sash, and salvaged concrete pavers.

Status: built September and dismantled October 2007

We had to buy our building materials this year from a salvage company. Hey, we do that for clothing, so why not for doors, windows, and lumber? The ReStore receives donations of usable but unwanted building materials and organizes them wonderfully so that people wanting to buy used instead of new can do so easily.

The weather was either raining or about to rain, as we say in Seattle, so we did not eat too many meals in the sukkah. The enclosure provided by the doors was virtually complete, so this sukkah did not afford awareness of passersby nor lighting effects that we have enjoyed in other years. So the lesson learned is that solid walls are a bit boring.

Materials cost $100 and construction took one day. The sukkah was dismantled at the end of the holiday week and the materials were returned to the salvage company for a partial refund and a chance for a better life in someone else's house.

Sukkah 2006 / 5767

Temporary shelter made from salvaged lumber scraps, salvaged wood door frame, and salvaged corrugated plastic patio cover.

Status: built and dismantled October 2006

A nearby demolition provided the materials for our sukkah this year. The patio cover panels worked great for the walls, but they were too ugly to be left unadorned. So, we decided on a grunge twist this year with graffiti thematic for the holiday.

The kids' reaction was predictable: "Sweet! That is totally rad!" (teenage speak for "we like that idea, Dad"). A friend donated nearly spent cans of old spray paint, so we did not have to feel guilty about buying toxic chemicals.

The weather was cold but clear, except for one day of rain. This sukkah was taller than we usually build, and the interior had no feeling of intimacy at all. The exterior drew not a single comment from the neighbors, but by now they are convinced that we are completely crazy.

Materials cost nothing and construction took one day. The sukkah was dismantled at the end of the holiday week and the materials were returned to the dumpster for eventual disposal in a landfill.

Sukkah 2005 / 5766

Temporary shelter made from salvaged porch floor boards.

Status: built and dismantled October 2005

A remodel of our own house provided ample scrap material for this year. The rotting, century old porch flooring was diverted from the dumpster for a week in the limelight as the walls of our sukkah.

Since the builders had taken over our front yard, our neighbors were kind enough to let us build our sukkah in their yard this year. They even joined us for most of the meals in what turned out to be a week of flawless weather.

Materials cost nothing and construction took one day. The sukkah was dismantled at the end of the holiday week and returned to the dumpster. Alas, wood painted with lead paint is considered trash and has to go to the landfill eventually.

Sukkah 2004 / 5765

Temporary shelter made from salvaged steel angle frames and salvaged masonite panels.

Status: built September and dismantled October 2004

A nearby business was undergoing an interior remodel, and their cast offs were just too tempting to pass up, especially since steel is way above our usual budget. Just one trip in our biodiesel Volkswagen garnered all our materials this year for free.

Since we do not have the tools to cut or weld steel at our home, the size and layout of this year's shelter was determined by the dimensions of the steel frames as we found them. The wall panels were already painted green, and just needed to be cut to size with a hand saw. The red sign made a perfect transom for our doorway.

Aesthetically this year's sukkah did not win any beauty prizes, nor did it add any charm to our festive meals. You get what you pay for, I suppose. The proportions were overly generous, which made trips to the buffet for seconds easier than in other years.

Materials cost nothing and construction took one day. The sukkah was dismantled at the end of the holiday week and stealthily returned to the dumpster from whence it first came. At least the green panels will have a good story to tell to their fellow refuse at the landfill.

Sukkah 2003 / 5764

Temporary shelter made from new wood lattice, salvaged wood patio umbrella frame, and salvaged bed linens.

Status: built and dismantled October 2003

Inspired by the Mongolian ger (yurt), this shelter was born when a neighbor cast out a patio umbrella that made a perfect roof frame. In the same scrap pile we found an old doorway frame for the portal and bed linens for the covering. For the accordion frame we had to buy lattice slats at the lumberyard.

The first circular sukkah we have built, it was convivial to group dining inside. Heavy winds uprooted the sukkah twice during the week, which explains why Mongolian ger are more squat in proportion.

Materials cost about $50 and construction took one day. The sukkah was dismantled at the end of the holiday week and relocated to a neighbor's yard where it served as a playhouse for a year.

Sukkah 2001 / 5762

Temporary shelter made from new steel poles and new scrim cloth.

Status: built and dismantled October 2001

This sukkah exploited the fact that we dine in it at night by candlelight. The fabric "walls" are made of $30 worth of theater scrim, which is opaque to a viewer on the side that is lit, but transparent to someone on the dark side. All day, the interior is obscured to passersby. But at dusk, when we light candles inside, the interior glows and our dinner party is visible within.

Additionally, like a shadow theater, the candle flames cast our shadows onto the fabric, where they created moving images for viewers on the outside. Unfortunately, there is no way to photograph this effect.

For the covering, thanks to the University of Washington's botanical greenhouse for offering their rare and exotic brush pile.

The frame is made of standard chain link fencing poles and connectors, which cost about $60. Construction took one day. The sukkah was dismantled at the end of the holiday week and the poles were saved for future use.

Sukkah 2000 / 5761

Temporary shelter made from new bamboo poles and new bamboo mats.

Status: built and dismantled October 2000

I

nspired by a structural bamboo workshop, this shelter is made from bamboo poles and woven bamboo mats. The frame members are drilled and through bolted at the joints, and the rafter poles are wire tied. Triangulation keeps it all rigid. Two people easily lifted and relocated the structure.

Unfortunately, it rained for 5 of the 8 nights, so we only got to dine in this sukkah a few times. It was roomier than others, but did not really give one a snug sense of shelter. It was however much admired as a sculptural object by neighbors and passersby alike.

Materials cost about $150 and construction took one day. The sukkah was dismantled at the end of the holiday week and the poles were saved for future use.

Sukkah 1999 / 5760

Temporary shelter made from salvaged shipping palettes and new electrical conduit.

Status: built September and dismantled October 1999

This "urban refuse" shelter is made from shipping palettes and electrical conduit. The prefabricated modular wall panels are stacked two courses tall and screwed together. The rafter poles are fastened with conduit clamps. Brush for the roofing was scavenged from a dump pile at a nearby city park.

The compact size of this sukkah gave it an enclosing character that we enjoyed. The palettes' staggered slats made the walls obscure when viewed head on, but open when viewed at an angle. This dual open/closed quality exposed and connected us to the world beyond the walls even as we felt secure within them.

Materials cost about $20 for the conduit (the palettes were free) and construction took half a day. The sukkah was dismantled at the end of the holiday week and the palettes were saved for future use.

Sukkah 1998 / 5759

Temporary shelter made from new straw bales and new bamboo poles.

Status: built and dismantled October 1998

This autumn I was working on a straw bale house for a client and decided to play with bales myself. The whole sukkah is made of plant stalks: the straw bale walls, the bamboo rafters, and the corn stalk covering.

The structure is a cube, made of stacked two-string bales, four courses tall. Since it was temporary, I did not bother to impale the bales with rebar or bamboo ties, and it stood up just fine under its own weight.

We used one course of bales to form a bench along both sides. It was clear and cold this year, and everyone appreciated sitting on and leaning back against the insulating bales. They did a great job of breaking the wind and warming our tushes!

Materials cost about $130 and construction took one day, plus an afternoon to get the bales. The sukkah was dismantled at the end of the holiday week and the bales were distributed to friends to cover their vegetable gardens against winter frost.

Sukkah 1997 / 5758

Temporary shelter made from new wood 2x4s and new steel chain.

Status: built and dismantled October 1997

The concept for this year's sukkah was to try to make the roof covering appear to float in midair. I used unfinished 2x4s for the canted posts. Steel chain connects the tops of the posts, tensioned by nylon guy ropes that pull outwards. Triangulation of the ropes braces the posts.

While the posts and roof do appear to magically self support, the absence of enclosure not only violated traditional rules, but also left the occupants feeling rather unsheltered. Fortunately the weather this year was balmy.

Materials cost about $50 and construction took one day. The sukkah was dismantled at the end of the holiday week and the lumber and chains were saved for future use.

Sukkah 1987 /5748

Temporary shelter made from new wood 2x4s and new nylon cord.

Status: built and dismantled October 1987

Tired of the usual blue tarp and 2x4 sukkahs prevalent in the USA, I decided to try building one as a design exercise and persuaded my landlord to use his small backyard. He grudingly acceded.

This simple first effort is about tension and compression. The wood frames have notches along the top member to guide the nylon strings, all of which are staked to the ground with just two pegs.

Materials cost about $35 and construction took one day. The sukkah was supposed to be dismantled at the end of the holiday week, but our landlord liked it so much he insisted on keeping it through the winter.