Student architects reimagine ancient structure in Encinitas


The Leichtag Foundation has enlisted the help of student architects to put a modern spin on an ancient tradition.

NewSchool of Architecture & Design’s School of Architecture is designing and building a sukkah, a temporary dwelling that commemorates the seven-day harvest festival Sukkot, which will be held in October at the Leichtag Foundation property in Encinitas. Student architects laid out their plans Aug. 19 at the site.

Last year’s Sukkot featured a sukkah design competition with three teams. But this year, the Leichtag Foundation wanted a single giant sukkah, one that’s more interactive.

So, the planned sukkah — 32 feet in diameter and 16 feet high — will be three times larger than past entries in order to house more people. Families will be able to tinker with agriculture-themed displays in the sukkah. And people will write down their desires for the community in the coming years on slips of paper that will be inserted into movable dwelling walls. The messages will then be incorporated into an arts performance at the end of Sukkot.

“We were inspired by the Western Wall in Jerusalem, where people put slips of paper with a message or prayers into the cracks of the stone wall,” said student architect Ari Feldman. “We want people to write down what they want to accomplish.”

Erion Qalliaj, another student, said two months ago he didn’t know what a sukkah was, echoing some of the students. Yet he’s enjoyed learning about the structures and the history surrounding them.

For the Jewish community, sukkahs symbolize bountiful harvests. And they represent when Israelites are said to have taken refuge in them while wandering through the desert in biblical times.

Sukkahs are typically basic structures made out of sticks and leaves, built at private homes. However, in recent years, ornate community sukkahs have been all the rage.

To encourage community participation, Jewish custom calls for people to share meals and entertain within the sukkahs during Sukkot. The dwellings allow for plenty of artistic interpretation, as long as they: have 2 ½ walls; fit a person as well as a table; and have a roof made of organic materials that provides shade by day and a view of the stars by night.

“The roof will be really challenging, since it has to meet these rules, and hold up at the same time,” Qalliaj said. The students are soon slated to meet with a rabbi to make sure the roof design plans follow Jewish tradition.

Student Dorina Szalna said a major theme of the sukkah is the future, which will be represented with plants in the sukkah that people will be able to take home at the end of Sukkot.

“It will remind people to consider how they want to grow in their community and what they want their community to look like.”

Joshua Sherman, communications and creative manager with the Leichtag Foundation, said the Hebrew calendar calls for the upcoming year to be about setting intentions.

The once-every-seventh-year practice of shmita in which religious Jews refrain from certain types of agriculture activity is drawing to a close. The year following shmita is dedicated to looking forward as a community, Sherman said.

“We want to tell that story with the sukkah,” Sherman said. He added: “It’s a place where people can share their intentions, wishes and commitments for what their community could look like in seven years.”

NewSchool of Architecture & Design professor Chuck Crawford said the students have spent four weeks designing and building mock-ups of the sukkah. The next four weeks will be dedicated to tightening up the designs, gathering materials, ironing out the logistics and setting up the sukkah, which will stay up for a week.

“We’re stressing interactivity and the future,” Crawford said.

To learn more about Sukkot at the Leichtag Foundation property, visit