Thomas H. Beeby
BIOGRAPHY: Mr. Beeby received his Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell (1964) and a Master of Architecture from Yale University (1965). He is the former Dean of the School of Architecture at Yale University. Among his notable works are North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe, Illinois; The Kovler Lion House at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago; and The DF and AL Rice Building of The Art Institute of Chicago.
LOCATION: Hammond Beeby and Babka, Inc., 440 North Wells Street, Chicago, IL 60610.
STATEMENT: The sukkah is described as a booth, a strangely indeterminate type of structure in one sense but highly proscribed in another. The vernacular construct, necessarily haphazardly built, that is profoundly symbolic through ritual use.
I have attempted to construct a sukkah from the commonest of contemporary materials. Wood has been chosen, for it follows the rule that critical materials must have their origins as vegetation but must no longer be living. Dimensional lumber common to all building suppliers and four foot by eight foot plywood sheets are dominant materials.
Four-inch-square posts, one in each corner of the structure, support two cantilevered wood beams of the same cross-sectional dimension. This demountable frame structure is self-supporting, tied together with lag bolts. On top of the cantilevered beams lies loosely the roofing made up of four two-by-four members. They are spaced evenly with a one-to-one ratio of open-to-closed cover. The central position is occupied by a solid two-by-four insuring the over fifty percent coverage required by rule.
The walls are framed by regularly spaced two-by-four studs and are covered with plywood sheathing. The walls like the frame are also demountable and do not directly support the roof. The studs are mounted on the exterior of the enclosing walls contrary to normal construction procedures to enhance the purity of the interior volume and contribute to the modesty of structural expression on the exterior. One horizontal two-by-four spacing member girdles the structure at sill height, broken only by the door.
The floor is constructed in a similar fashion to the walls and rests directly on a concrete plinth. The plinth isolates the wood from the ground plane both physically and symbolically, providing protection from moisture as well as providing significance to the tiny structure.
Meaning in architecture can be accomplished through order and geometry. Measure and repetition as in Solomon's Temple suggest perfection that can be sacred. When a carpenter works, even on the most trivial structure, he arranges his tools for ease of motion and works in as repetitious a manner as possible to conserve energy and materials. In symbolic vernacular architecture, the order of the mind through measure and the hand through repetition creates structures of power.
The space of this sukkah is a perfect cube in concept. In reality the roof is raised above the abstract cube to become symbolically independent. The geometry of a plywood sheet forces one joint to occur on each wall of the sukkah as well as the floor. The space on both axes of the building is bisected by this joint into halves with the floor joint accenting the front-to-back entrance axis versus the transverse axis through the windows. Further hierarchy of construction details is created by the choices that are made between the regularity of constructional perfection and the symbolism related to ritual use.
The door is an independent frame of square posts identical to the corner posts of the cube. This frame is perfect in arrangement of post and lintel as suggested by rule. It distorts the framing and skin of the wall panels which are cut to receive the door. The windows, conversely, are cut through the plywood skin of the booth but allow the two-by-four framing to pass through undistorted.
The fastening of the plywood to the frames is accomplished with a grid a stainless steel screws. These grids are adjusted at the perimeter to allow conflicts caused by the material thickness of the plywood skin. This adjustment to the ideal is accomplished in a systematic way to avoid detection, for the grid has geometric significance that demands visual rather than constructional consistency. The overlapping of the plywood sheets at the corners creates a condition where the plywood sheets of the floor panel are uncut and therefore perfect, while the walls are cut along their edges to accommodate geometric overlap. The front and back walls are uncut on their sides while the sidewall plywood is trimmed. The backwall is built to receive appropriate decoration and is therefore given dominance.
The threshold is the only unique piece in the make-up of the entire structure, for it marks the passage that allows for ritual use.
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