Sukkah in the Landscape

I have an interest in the  design and construction of landscapes that not only look good but also have a contemplative or meditative element to them. 

Gardens are naturally disposed to this of course. However with the onset of smaller gardens and heavier use of built structures within designed landscapes (as opposed to plantscapes) the opportunities for natural spaces within which to reflect are becoming narrower and narrower.

So, it was with some simple satisfaction that I learnt (not being from the Jewish tradition) about the sukkah and its importance within the Jewish community, from a happy client.


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What is a sukkah ?

Traditionally a sukkah is a temporary hut constructed for use during the week-long Jewish festival of Sukkot.  It is topped with branches and often well decorated with autumnal, harvest or Judaic themes. 

It is often described as a symbolic wilderness shelter, commemorating the time God provided for the Israelites in the wilderness they inhabited after they were freed from slavery in Egypt. 

And it is common for people to eat, sleep and otherwise spend time in the sukkah. 

The sukkah, being temporary also itself symbolizes the frailty and transience of life and its dependence on God.


Similarities

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In 2015 I designed and built a contemplative award winning show garden called the Urban Temple. The bravest visitors climbed in and sat for some time, contemplating (one might imagine) the difference and similarities between being inside as to being outside.

It took;

  • 3 months to design 
  • 7 days to build and after being viewed by close to approximately 20,000 people during the four day Melbourne Internationals Flower and Garden Show, 
  • 3 days to dismantle leaving the space in Carlton Gardens as if nothing had been there.

For interest I’ve created a simple iBook here to outline the project.

The similarities with the ‘Urban Temple’ and a sukkah are striking. 

  • Temporary, impermanent
  • Shelter/refuge, 
  • Symbolic
  • Natural elements
  • Contemplative, reflective

Incorporated into the garden

So, how did we incorporate a a ‘temporary structure’ into this small Rippon Lea garden space ?

Working with our lovely client we were able to develop a simple multi-use space that allowed a fixed structure to be used for various purposes through most of the year and then be converted into the Sukkah during Sukkot.

The space was required to :

  • Allow access from the front garden and garage through to the rear sliding doors
  • Provide a space for enclosed play.
  • Provide space for a small easy access educational vegetable / herb garden
  • Look good from the new studio/garage
  • Allow for relaxed sitting during the evening
  • Be transformed into a Sukkah during Sukkot.

Of course once designed it was easy to see the solution lay in a simple desk/pergola type structure over which will be placed palm fronds and on which will be hung ‘curtains’ to allow the family, especially the children to spend time in during the yearly festival.

The simplicity of the design belies a deeper understanding of design and future use and also reflects time spent getting to know our client, allowing for changes of heart and mind, requirements and budget.

Below an image of the design itself with finished images to come.


Contemplation

A garden (whether it be residential, industrial or commerical) with a Sukkah, a place for quiet contemplative sitting, or an 'Urban Temple' can be more than, yet still incorporate, a place to play, grow and eat. It can be a symbol of and bring one closer to something far bigger than oneself or the garden.

It can become a reminder of the frailty and impermanence of a life that we often make more complicated than it needs to be. A place perhaps to rediscover ones place in the world and as Rabbi Menachem Wolf from SpiritGrow has said  'To improve people’s lives by creating a more values-conscious society, imbuing people with mutual care and concern, providing avenues to health and wellness education, and enriching relationships to facilitate happiness and personal fulfillment – through a holistic approach to life.'