Feature Article - October 2009
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Under Cover

Shelters & Shade Structures

By Dawn Klingensmith


Solid Protection

Structures with solid roofs last longest and offer the best protection against the sun and weather, and some can be accessorized with cupolas, weathervanes, clocks and columns. On the lower end, prefabricated steel is an option. But these types of structures are relatively expensive and probably require permits. In certain situations, though, only a gazebo, pergola, pavilion or custom-designed shelter fits in the context of its surroundings and serves the purposes required.

For example, when Solomon, Kan., started downtown redevelopment, two old commercial buildings were demolished, setting in motion historic mitigation requirements. In the buildings' place is a "pocket park" with a raised shelter as its focal point. At each of the four corners is a trio of 10-inch-diameter columns, mounted on a brick pedestal that matches the masonry used elsewhere downtown and in some of the original buildings. The relief on the columns is reminiscent of the columns on one of the demolished buildings.

Traditional building materials can be used where a classic look is desired, such as a wooden gazebo in a botanical garden. But they also lend themselves to architectural inventiveness. For a waterside picnic area at the Eldean Shipyard in Macatawa, Mich., the desired aesthetic was something open and airy, but with a solid, substantial look. Based on client input, a Holland, Mich.-based shelter systems company came up with a 20-foot-diameter octagonal shelter with a single column supporting the steel roof from the side and top as opposed to down the center. (The fabric version of this design is called an offset or side-post umbrella.) Perhaps it's going a little too far to say the roofing looks magically suspended, but the shelter's openness is uninterrupted all the way around, save for the one post, which withstands the high winds off Lake Michigan. The footing was custom-designed to carry the load in a soft, wet embedment. But what's truly magical as far as visitors are concerned is the surprise of hearing their voices echoed back at them from overhead when they stand at the center.

Another inventive—and somewhat controversial—structure is a sculptural, fiberglass design at a beachside park in La Pineda, Spain, intended to mimic the shape of real pine trees nearby. According to the Web-based publication Inhabitat, which tracks design and materials innovations, "The architects recognized the park's need for shade, but were presented with the dilemma that salt spray from the nearby water would make it difficult to grow the same pine trees that already existed on the site." So they came up with a network of abstracted trunks and canopies made of salt-resistant fiberglass "to complement the angled and varied effect of the pine tree's shape," the article continues. The interconnected structure sways slightly in the wind, as trees would.

Although the article concluded that the architects "definitely captured all the beautiful physical attributes of the pines," readers' responses were critical of the overall appearance ("hideous"), colors (not at all "treesy") and functionality (two readers questioned the structure's ability to cast any usable shade).