During the recently concluded Festival of Booths, my son and I built an edible sukkah. It had rice cakes for walls, pretzel rods for roof beams, arugula for schach, cereal and Skittles for decoration, and vanilla frosting to hold it all together.
Talk about mouthwatering architecture.
Still, it couldn’t compare to the experience of being in an actual, full-sized sukkah — located just around the corner from my son’s quickly digested one. This age-old construction is so simple, yet it manages to make you feel both sheltered and exposed to the elements at the same time. Little can compare to sitting in a sukkah and gazing up at the stars through palm fronds, all under the spotlight of a full moon.
In a way, it recalls the work of Moshe Safdie, the Israeli-born architect whose work is being celebrated in a retrospective that kicks off Oct. 22 at the Skirball Cultural Center and which is profiled in this month’s edition of TRIBE. His designs — whether at the Skirball campus, where his final phase was just completed, or Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem — integrate the natural world with the geometry of architecture, creating a place that feels both open and safe at the same time.
Consider the visitors center he designed for Yad Vashem where an arcaded concrete pavilion is roofed by skylights and trellises, casting a constantly changing pattern of shadows. Sound familiar? (All it’s missing are the arugula and Skittles.)
Then there’s the history museum itself, consisting of a mostly underground structure that features a network of skylit galleries. It cuts through the hillside at Yad Vashem, penetrating at one end. There’s a large open space with a balcony overlooking Jerusalem — what a moving symbol of the journey of the Jewish people from darkness to the light of possibility.
The point is that, unlike some buildings designed to blind you with bling — I’m talking about you, Walt Disney Concert Hall — Safdie’s works are more famous for creating a mood, telling a story and connecting with their surroundings while meeting a purpose. Which brings us back to the Skirball. Safdie began work on the site years ago, and the museum opened its doors 1996. The newest addition contains a multiuse hall and giant kosher kitchen.
I haven’t been to the final addition to the Skirball yet, but I look forward to it. My colleagues who have been lucky enough to get a sneak preview tell me that the new hall incorporates a wall of windows looking out at beautiful exterior gardens and open, high-ceilinged rooms that are neither intimidating nor overly grand.
We can all find out for ourselves after Oct. 19, when the cultural center hosts a dedication gala. In the meantime, maybe I can show my son some photos of the new building and convince him to build an edible version.