Monday, September 20, 2010

Simple complexity vs. complex simplicity

Today and tomorrow, 12 (sorry, 11) contemporary Sukkahs (temporary shelters of Jewish tradition to celebrate the festival of Sukkot) are on display in Union Square. They are chosen from 600+ entries from 43 countries in the Sukkah City competition.

Looked at the renderings when the winners were announced, you might be fascinated by how much we can do with the computer nowadays. All those shapes, materials, aggregates. Things can get so complex! But walking in the "City of Sukkah" is a different experience. It seems most of the architects didn't take reality seriously enough when they let their imaginations fly. When you try to cut and assemble zillions of different little pieces together, it's not as fun as modeling them in the computer. When the budget doesn't really allow state-of-the-art digital fabrication, some built results of these "state-of-the-art" designs look horrendous, some even led to structural failure.

Blo Puff. Huh? I bet they knew how the bamboo poles come up from the inflatable wall.
Fractured Bubble. Exploded hedgehog?
Gathering. Oh, you need to start with some vertical pieces? Oh, you need something to tie the parts together?
Repetition Meets Difference. Yes, very different.
Star Cocoon. Tell me this is a joke.
Sukkah of the Signs. After the tornado?
Time/Timeless. Very nice carpentry, but where did the curtain go?
Shim Sukkah. The shims give the walls a nice texture. But I am not sure when they start to unravel in all directions.
Single Thread. Made out of one continuous wire, the materiality is very interesting. It's probably the nicest among the complicated-looking ones.
P.YGROS.C. I am sorry, this one just collapsed right after installation last night.

When you think about it, all these complicated-looking objects are pretty much just simple one-liners. There's nothing really sophisticated about them. On the other side of the spectrum, some of the finalists still maintain a certain level of clarity, unpolluted by the seemingly "sexy" complex imagery. It just feels refreshing to see them standing out from the jungle of digital pineapples and mushrooms.

In Tension. Tensegrity is a clear and interesting structural idea. Maybe they took the low budget and temporariness a little too literally? Maybe the net is not dense enough for it to look substantial?

The best one is clearly LOG (by Kyle and Scott!). Praised by Fred Bernstein of the New York Times as "the most daring," LOG started with a simple idea: since the roof of a Sukkah must be made of botanical material that once grew in the ground, why don't we just use a giant log and make it float? It challenges the traditional image of the Sukkah yet still following all the rules. It pushes the limit of engineering yet still making it structurally sound. Its complexity doesn't rely on a complex but fake computer rendering. The designers don't need to prove their courage by proposing complex structure that fails. The magical moment comes from all the careful hard work behind a simple but powerful gesture.

LOG. Simply the best.
Looking up to the sky through the hole in the log.

There's a voting going on in Union Square as well as online here. The winner will stay in Union Square for the week of Sukkot while the rest will be gone tomorrow night. So if you haven't voted, do it NOW. Vote for LOG!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU! Oh God, thank you for this post. (And I'm an atheist.)

I thought most of the rendered designs were lousy and the 'built' designs were much much worse (with the notable and very expensive exception of Log).

I do have to add in the defense of the winners that the jury was too large and they took an extra week to make their decisions. This lost week clearly had an impact on the constructions.