Sukkanoe. A Hybrid Spiritual Vessel for Toronto

Presented by: First Author: Gregory Marinic, Second Author: Michelangelo Sabatino

The sukkah is a temporary structure and symbolic place of gathering that is deeply rooted in the history and tradition of the Jewish people. Bringing together family and friends, this temporal structure is assembled to provide space for communities to connect with each other and the natural environment.  This proposal for Sukkaville envisions the sukkah as a site-specific and site-relevant construct responding to a Canadian context in Toronto.  It assumes that the sukkah can act as an ‘agent’ that brings diverse people together for a communal act, and thus, establishes a hybrid identity for itself.  Sukkanoe blends the ancient tradition of the sukkah with a building tradition specific to Canada.   Builders of the sukkah participate in a journey that reflects upon the experiences of the Jewish, First Nations, and Canadian people.

Hybridizing First Nations, Jewish, & Canadian traditions, this proposal, Sukkanoe (sukkah + canoe), provides a shelter-vessel designed for Mel Lastman Square in North York, Ontario, Canada. It offers a ‘hybrid’ sukkah design that draws from and combines Jewish, First Nations, and Canadian traditions, both past and present. Sukkanoe transforms the iconic birch-bark canoe. The shape and materials used for this concept are meant to recall the innovation and self-reliance of First Nations peoples, the challenges of European voyageur explorations, and the transience of the Sukkot holiday and Jewish migration to Canada.

Sukkanoe revisits ancient building techniques.  A frugal and ‘sustainable’ tool for human-powered travel, the handcrafted birch-bark canoe was historically made from organic materials and designed to float. This vessel helped First Nations inhabitants, as well as European voyageurs, navigate and populate the waterways and landscapes of the Canadian wilderness. During portage, canoes served as temporary dwellings for users, providing a light-weight shelter from the elements.

Sukkanoe appropriates construction principles of the traditional Canadian canoe, including its ‘skeleton’ (springer and ribs) and ‘skin’ (cladding), in order to create an open yet intimate sukkah. By introducing birch-bark cladding and maintaining exposed structural transparency, this proposal attempts to provide an open yet protected environment for the context of Mel Lastman Square. Sukkanoe rethinks the meaning of the ‘sukkah’ as a temporal vessel-space for Toronto.

Sukkanoe responds as a temporary structure associated with the festival of Sukkot.  A sukkah symbolizes protection and perseverance, and so, Sukkanoe seeks to evoke a similar mobility, yet temporal ‘permanence’. By transforming the prototypical canoe placed firmly on the ground, it recalls both the journey of Jewish immigrants to the New World, as well as the identity of subsequent generations who were born in Canada.  Sukkanoe reflects this new, hybrid Canadian identity.

Sukkanoe negotiates three different traditions: Jewish, First Nations, and Canadian. Thus, the conceptual and material qualities of its design are meant to remind adult and children visitors of the challenges that faith and identity pose to our shared journey of coexistence.  As a temporal structure embedded with significant spiritual meaning, the sukkah can bridge cultures by offering a common ground to reflect upon space, place, tradition, and spirituality.


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