Seeking Shelter

Innovations in Shade & Shelter Solutions


We know why we put on sunscreen and find shade on sunny days, but it's too important to forget, so before looking at the latest in shade structures for recreational spaces, let's visit the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website. Type "skin cancer" into the search engine, and the first item on the skin cancer page is Sun Safety. To quote the CDC verbatim:

The sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes. Follow these recommendations to help protect yourself and your family.

You can reduce your risk of skin damage and skin cancer by seeking shade under an umbrella, tree or other shelter before you need relief from the sun.


Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, and even if a careless person isn't afflicted with it, the sun eventually wins with discoloration, wrinkling and weakening of the skin's elasticity, causing sagging. If you want to spend time outdoors and you don't want 40-year-old skin when you are 30, or worse, cancer, you need to find spaces with shade structures.

Any shade will do— buildings, trees, a taller person—but because recreational spaces are where people gravitate when they go outdoors, it's not always possible to build around those choices. That's why it's important to consider options for providing shade, from shade sails and canopies to shelters and pavilions, when planning and designing space for recreation—whether it's a park, a playground, a pool or a sports field.

Form & Function

Shade structure and shelter manufacturers can help you bring the shade to your recreational spaces, and to differentiate from one another to win bids, those companies are making creative designs with innovative engineering and materials.

Shade structure and shelter manufacturers can help you bring the shade to your recreational spaces and those companies are making creative designs with innovative engineering and materials.

"How can I provide shade and make it blend in with either the theme of the facility or the architecture or environment, the natural surroundings?" asked Alan Bayman, president of an Ocala, Fla.-based manufacturer of shade structures. "People want to make a statement, and that's where colors come in and design elements come in. Except for customers with really strict budget concerns, we're seeing customers saying, 'Give us something different.'"

Bayman points to work his company has done for the city of Miami Beach, Fla. When Miami Beach was looking to provide shade at several city parks and a playground at South Pointe Park, appearance was crucial. The playground and park is visible from cruise ships approaching the Port of Miami. Bayman's firm used the striking sail system to cover the playground.


The sails are tensioned canopies using stainless steel hardware and one-point attachment for ease of installation and removal—all musts for use in humid, salty air in a tropical storm area. The fabric can be configured in a variety of shapes and comes in various colors. Carlos Da Cruz, projects supervisor for Miami Beach Parks and Recreation Department, said the sails are doubly valuable—beautiful and functional.

Da Cruz said that not only do shade structures protect the skin from the sun but also keep the sun from heating recreational equipment until it is unusable.

"The parents were interacting, the kids were having fun, not getting burned from the sun, or the equipment, so I saw it as a win-win situation," Da Cruz said. "As we find funding, we proceed to install these units in our playgrounds. As we build parks we want to put shade structures over them."

Bayman said his company has responded to the market's demand for new and imaginative shade structures by hiring more designers and engineers in the past couple of years. This has led to a diverse array of shade options, from sculptural and multi-tiered sail systems to canopies over single and double cantilevers, shades for bleachers and playgrounds, as well as patios and pools, umbrellas and more—all conceived to delight the eye as well as beat the heat.


"Customers can say, 'Hey, we did something nice to improve the community,' not just because now you have a cool place that's protected from the sun—you could do that with a concrete block structure," said Bayman. "They want to do it in a way people will accept it and want to add it and not say, 'What an eyesore they put in. Yeah, we got shade, the kids aren't getting sunburned, but it looks horrible.' We want to avoid that."

In addition to enhancing hardware and fabrics, today's cutting edge technology extends to custom site-specific positioning of structures, said Bayman.

"With the GPS, we can determine where the sun's position is going to be at a given geographic location based on latitude and longitude, different times of day and different times of year," Bayman said. "We can design, especially with the flexibility of multiple sails which are multi-level and multi-angle canopies, in a way so it's going to give shade most of the time.

"The worst thing is to put in a shade structure and realize whatever's under the structure is exposed to the sun 80 percent of the day. It's got to be positioned right."

Make a Statement


Richard Lubbers, vice president of marketing and design for a Holland, Mich.-based manufacturer of shelters, is another who sees the delivery of shade as only the beginning of his company's mission. He explained that his company was the first to design a line of shelters inspired by an architectural style (Craftsman), the first to offer shelters with a "live" roof, and the first to build a two-story shade shelter.

"Park directors say, 'We want something nobody else has,'" Lubbers said. "So we work with them on different designs, different elements of the design that perhaps have never been done before in the industry. Our wheels are always turning."

While breaking the mold with creative new approaches, Lubbers' company is more focused on sturdier structures that use less flexible materials than shades. Explaining the development of one of the company's newest styles, Lubbers said, "For the past 30 years, the steel shelter market was dominated by the notion that all the fasteners have to be hidden. I started looking around, and what I was seeing in the design world for other markets was a lot of retro-industrial looks where companies were using I-beams and heavy rustic looking wood components in both furniture and in structures."

In response, the company came up with a line that features "… heavy I-beam columns and rivet plates." Lubbers added, "I was fascinated with early 20th century iron bridges with all the rivets. Those were some of the best trade shows we had, people responding to the line. The next year we added to it, with a line of furnishings, firepits with big hoods over them, benches with I-beams and heavy wood slats.


"You go to parks and you see picnic shelters with picnic tables under. I thought, 'Why not create a living room situation?' So we did benches that are like couches and coffee tables so people can sit around, put their feet up, talk. If it's an outdoor structure, we'll do it."

Lubbers admits it's not all fun and games: The company has a full line of traditional types of shelters that make up the bulk of its business. He estimates that the customized work is 30 to 35 percent of the company's focus. He added, though, that the pace of innovation is hard to ignore.

"The lines blur; things we were thinking would only be accepted by a certain group or a certain location we would be well received by others as well," Lubbers said. "We see new materials all the time, we get samples, we play around with it, we think of ways to use it. Manufacturing is always moving forward, so we look at different machines, different ways of fabricating. We're finding also that the workers we hire are more educated and better trained."


Sending a Message

Ashley Bullis, graphic designer and marketer for a Waterloo, Iowa-based provider of tents and shade solutions, brings back the good times with a story she likes to tell that shows how shade structures, with colors, logos and messaging, can protect from the sun as well as guide people at public recreational spaces.


"Imagine being at a baseball game," she said. "It is the dead of summer, it's hot, and the sun is beating down onto the concrete. You enter the stadium and make your way to the shaded bleachers to find a seat. You glance down at the field and notice your favorite baseball team under the protection and shade of a dugout cover, which is custom-made to read 'Wildcats.'

"The man next to you slurps down a beverage and clinks his ice around at the bottom of the cup. You look around to find the concession area, and spot large, personalized umbrellas that read 'ICE COLD' and 'HOT DOGS.' You make your way in the direction of the concessions. When you arrive, you make your purchase and find a spot in a shaded concession area to sit and enjoy your ballpark frank. Afterwards, you return to your shady spot on the bleachers and enjoy a perfect ballgame.

"Making your facilities comfortable for your customers and staff will not only make the experience more enjoyable, but will keep them coming back time and time again, boosting sales, fun and word-of-mouth that your facility is worth the visit."


Bullis said, don't forget that protection and signage and comfort aren't all the benefits of a well planned and executed shade structure system. She said shade is a great revenue booster for aquatic facilities, park shelter and concessions, amusements and carnival industries as well as professional and non-professional sporting events, hotels and restaurants, and many other public events and places. Advertising revenue is also an option with the variety of colors and logo capabilities.

"Shade increases the length of stay for patrons, which is great for business," she said. "When shade is available for patrons, they are more likely to attend and sometimes even host events of their own at those facilities."

From Then to Now

Making your facilities comfortable for your customers and staff will not only make the experience more enjoyable, but will keep them coming back time and time again.

Another Holland, Mich.-based manufacturer of both hard and soft top shade structures has more than 50 years in the business, and most of those years has offered roofed buildings. When it developed the first tubular bolt-together steel frame with concealed bolts in the industry, its shade division was born. Senior Designer Herb Hoster said the industry has evolved in the materials it uses and the needs it fills.

"Shelter construction was initially done using wood as the primary material due to numerous reasons, like cost, availability of both skilled craftsmen and materials, and the prevailing design ethic," Hoster said. "Our company, being a steel fabricator, began marketing steel-framed shelters and found a small but growing market as parks evolved from smaller single purpose to larger broad use facilities.

"The trend today is toward custom designs, with larger multipurpose structures becoming a part of more parks. The clearest trends of the past decade have been the demand for arced and curvilinear designs in shelters."


Just as the latest in manufacturing of shades includes ease of removal for bad weather (high winds, snow loads and freezing), ease of installation has become an important selling point for shelters. Marketing Specialist Jennifer Graves said her company sends a complete bolt-together building package with detailed installation instructions to go with support from the company's engineering department.

"We procure all framing and roofing materials to reduce coordination and to move your project into manufacturing more quickly," she said. "Once they arrive on site, the shelters bolt together quickly and do not require specialized contractors, field welding or painting."

Like most top manufacturers' products, the company's steel features powder coating for protection from UV rays, salt, humidity and rust, and sends touch-up paint in case of scratching during installation or later from vandalism or accidents.

Shade & Shelter Innovation

Bayman said pricing, especially of customized structures, is tough to nail down.


"Per square foot depends on so many different variables—type of design, single canopy or multiple canopy, the shape of the structure," he said. "Multi-sided costs more than just a rectangle or square. Then there's the height of the structure. That changes things, too."

He said along with the rise in imaginative designs, fabric colors are differentiating clients' structures, and where his company once offered 10 colors, customers can now choose from 15.

"There are some wild choices—really bright colors for the people who want to make a statement versus blend into the natural surroundings," Bayman said.

Bayman said despite the range of colors, the most popular, not surprisingly, are forest green and aquatic blue. He said UV block can rise from 90 percent to 99 percent, when you move from lighter colors to darker. Canopies are typically made from high-density polyethylene, which is not susceptible to mildew or rotting.

Graves said colors aren't the only frills that can be added to structures and shelters. You can also choose from different column styles, railings, cupolas and laser cut ornamentation.


"[Our] structures have endless possibilities, and designs are only limited by your imagination," she said. "We are constantly evaluating new products, such as polycarbonate, Parasoleil panels, solar panels and lighting, shade curtains, heavy-duty steel gutters and downspouts color-matched to the frame that can be incorporated into designs."

Lubbers said sometimes the inspiration for change and experimenting comes from within, and sometimes from without. When the company created an architectural-inspired line, he said, "we were approached by a landscape architecture firm in Southern California to develop these shelters because they were developing a park in a neighborhood where most of the houses were from the early 20th century designed in the Craftsman architectural motif," said Lubbers.

"What we've been about is continuing to push the envelope on structures in the public arena," Lubbers said. "We're just not content with the status quo."