Architects design string sukkah for public art installation

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 Architects Jordan Billingsley and Esther Furman crouch in front of their unconventional sukkah, titled “Woven.”
Architects Jordan Billingsley and Esther Furman crouch in front of their unconventional sukkah, titled “Woven” (Courtesy of Capital Jewish Museum)

Esther Furman’s favorite part of Sukkah City x DC has been seeing attendees interact with the unique sukkah she built.

Furman, a Pikesville native, is an architect with the Baltimore firm, Hord Coplan Macht. She and her teammate, Jordan Billingsley, designed and built a sukkah for Sukkah City x DC, a public art installation in Washington, D.C., where different architects have had the opportunity to showcase their unconventional sukkahs to the public.


“You never know if people are actually going to use it how you design,” Furman said. “And so when we saw people, especially children, sitting down and just saying, ‘Hi,’ it was very special.”

The installation was presented by the Capital Jewish Museum and the National Building Museum in collaboration with the Edlavitch DC JCC. The display will be up at the National Building Museum and the EDCJCC through Oct. 3.

“Sukkah City was first launched in New York City, I think in 2010 … with a display of architect-designed sukkot in Union Square,” said Kara Blond, executive director of the Capital Jewish Museum. “And we have decided to bring Sukkah City to the nation’s capital.

“We have brought together teams of architects that have designed just creative, inspired, thoughtful twists on the traditional sukkah design,” Blond added.

Furman said that the event spoke to her as both a designer and as a Jew.

“A couple people in the office, we’re always looking for new ways to be creative and have some fun outside of the constraints of real life projects that we work with in the firm,” said Furman, a member of Young Israel Shomrai Emunah in Kemp Mill. “So it’s an opportunity to have a little fun, be creative. We’re designers, we love designing, we love building.”

Furman grew up in an Orthodox community, so this was hardly the first time she has helped build or decorate a sukkah. But it was the first time she built a sukkah for an event like this, she said.

In keeping with the event’s theme of “welcoming the stranger,” Furman designed her sukkah, titled “Woven,” around a central table, which she referred to as a “social gathering point.” A lulav, partly made of bamboo, reaches up from the table’s center in her design.

“The table is usually what brings people together, and it’s a great opportunity to make new friends, invite them to your table,” Furman said.

In the sukkah, a series of strings from the top of the lulav stretch downward to help form the boundaries of the sukkah.

“We used string to help define the boundary, because we wanted to find a building material that couldn’t really stand on its own, but when it was combined with other units it helped define space,” Furman said.

One string by itself does not do very much, but when grouped together, they can define a space. This is symbolic of how “everyone is significant and is needed to make up a community,” Furman said.

Much in the way that a sukkah is a temporary structure, being a stranger to someone is a temporary condition, as people are only strangers until someone reaches out a hand of friendship, Furman said.

Furman noted how children attending the event were often sitting down at her table to chat with each other, and she was pleased to see it being used with its intended purpose.

“I guess we were trying to have people interact with each other,” Furman explained. “That’s somebody who you don’t know, and taking that step to reach out, and going from that temporary condition of being a stranger. We used the table to try and do that, to initiate conversation and people reaching out.

“It’s like they no longer feel like a stranger either,” Furman continued. “When somebody reaches out to you, you feel like you’re not necessarily alone, which is nice.”

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