Great Escapes

Provide Respite & Relaxation With Shelters & Shade Structures


From being a go-to place to escape the rain or blazing hot sun to being the chosen location for a family picnic or other special outdoor gathering, shelters and shade structures continue to offer unique functions in a wide variety of locations.

"Shade and shelters are becoming more integrated into outdoor spaces where people gather and spend time," said Scott Curtis, director of sales for a Red Bud, Ill.-based manufacturer of shelters, site furnishings and more. For example, he said, "shade is no longer just used to cover playgrounds to help keep the temperatures down and provide UV blockage for children as they play; more spaces utilizing both shade and shelters are now being placed around the playground so additional family members can enjoy the time outdoors as well."

Aquatic centers, parks and athletic fields alike have incorporated shelters and shade structures into their recreational environments, which provide not only a specific function of protecting patrons from the outdoor elements, but also offer a visual appeal.

A Variety of Functions

Simply put, some of the most popular uses of shelters and shade structures have been "to shade playground equipment, water play and pools, bleachers and dugouts, and seating areas, such as concessions or just benches," said Alan Bayman, president of an Ocala, Fla.-based company that designs and manufactures pre-engineered outdoor fabric shade structures, canopies and awning covers.


"However, more recently, people concerned about dangerous sun exposure have been demanding shade protection at school pickup areas, tennis/bocce ball/shuffleboard courts, golf courses, amphitheaters/stages, and even dog daycares," he said.

The multiple uses of shelters and shade structures include athletic fields, which "incorporate dugouts, bleacher covers and concession areas to keep both players and spectators out of direct sunlight and shielded from rain," said Jennifer Graves, marketing coordinator for a company that specializes in the design, engineering and manufacturing of open air steel shade structures.


Curtis agreed, adding, "We are seeing cantilever-style shades and shelters being utilized more at sports facilities to cover the bleacher seating areas. For years, shelters have been used as dugout covers, but now the larger sports complexes are also building large shelters with picnic tables to use as team-gathering spots or for cookout and dining areas to be used during weekend tournament play.

"Shade and shelters are also starting to be utilized in outdoor fitness areas that are associated with fitness and walking trails, or on the grounds of multi-family housing or HOA clubhouse areas," he added.


"Amphitheaters create a central focal point for a stage, while also being a revenue generator for concerts and events," Graves added. "Carousel covers protect expensive mechanical components and uniquely crafted ride pieces from sun fading and weather damage. Walkway covers and entrance canopies create wayfinding points to building entrances while also working as transit waiting areas. Farmers' markets create an open-air venue allowing vendors to work through longer seasons while creating a space that brings community together."

Mike Moore, national sales manager for an Arizona-based company that specializes in manufacturing shelters and shade structures, pointed out how they have evolved over the years.

"Providing shade and shelter from the elements, protecting landmarks, machines and equipment, covers for multipurpose classrooms and meeting areas are very popular," he said. "Family gatherings, picnic areas, playground equipment, dugouts and spectator areas are still the most common shelters. The evolution of custom structures has brought aesthetics and a focal point to themed parks or campuses. These structures can be built to complement many of the creative ideas of the landscape architect."

"Also, let's not forget one of the fastest-growing segments in the outdoor spaces segments—dog parks," Curtis added. "Dog parks are now including shade and shelter structures as more people spend extended periods of time in this ever-growing and expanding outdoor space."


Richard Lubbers, vice president of marketing for a Holland, Mich.-based company that designs, engineers and fabricates shelters, gazebos, pavilions and more, noted the following of the different uses of shelters and shade structures:

>> "Environmental: Shelters and shade structures are used to protect people and animals from the elements of sunlight, wind and rain in any outdoor activity.

>> "Recreational: Shelters and shade structures are used for a multitude of recreational purposes, such as picnics, community events, outdoor concerts, athletic activities, playground shade, carousels, fish cleaning stations and hiking trail waypoints.

>> "Community: Shelters and shade structures are used for farmers' markets, bandshells, community centers, outdoor classrooms and walkways.

>> "Utilitarian: Shelters and shade structures are used for public transportation, public time clock towers, message kiosks and portable toilet enclosures."

From Basic to Unique


Shelters and shade structures feature a variety of functions that can be as basic as a fabric shade to designs that are more complex, such as a shaded walkway.

"Some of the most basic and popular uses of fabric shade is over playground equipment and seating areas such as bleachers at sports fields," Bayman said. And, "The designs," he noted, "can range from very utilitarian using a basic four-support column layout and a single fabric canopy, to complex multi-layered designs or structures that limit support columns to one side for enhanced spectator viewing such as at sports fields."

When it comes to pavilions, today they "go beyond basic and traditional," Graves said. "Structures are designed and engineered for each specific site, starting with the ideas and needs of the park. Pavilions are no longer limited by 'standard designs.' Whether it's a large picnic pavilion or a small seating area along a walkway, parks are able to create a design as unique as their facility and community. Perfect for hosting reunions, birthday parties or just a picnic during a family outing, pavilions are one of the most essential pieces of any park area."


She also said that "Amphitheaters can be an eye-catching first impression and central hub within a park for hosting public events, concerts and performances."

And if you are looking to get a return on your investment, amphitheaters can be a good solution, bringing money to the community or local charities through ticket admission and fundraisers.

"Amphitheaters become a focal point within a park and can make it a destination," Graves said. "With the ability to personalize a structure and increase site recognition with laser-cut medallions and signage, or by adding attachment points for temporary banners to identify sponsors and local events, the amphitheater can serve a dual purpose as an advertisement for the park and its event.

"Outdoor facilities are gaining in popularity as people are wanting to create a greater connection with nature," she added. "Farmers' markets can be developed for a permanent venue so merchants no longer have to transport tents. Parks are adding fitness areas with equipment and interactive games that need protection from the elements. Playgrounds and splash pads are incorporating shade to allow children to play longer without the fear of overexposure to direct sunlight while preventing equipment from getting too hot. Even dog parks need a place for pets and owners alike to stop and take a break."


Meanwhile, Moore said that basic models are still the most popular, but many parks and schools look for custom designs as well. "Themed structures, multipurpose areas and unique shelters that bring to life the areas aesthetics are very common for today's landscape architects," he explained. "Hip and gable roofed structures are still very nice for parks and picnic areas, while curved structures and amphitheaters are fitting the custom bill for themed parks. Fortunately, fabrication and curving technology are allowing us to evolve as the designs evolve."

"Shelter manufacturers typically have a line of standard shelters," Lubbers noted. "I call them 'Industry Standard Shelters' because every company produces a version of them, and they're all more-or-less alike.

"One of the more prevalent questions I hear is, 'Do you do custom work?' Many custom designs come from the design community that works to create public spaces, but not all shelter companies have the capability to produce them," he said. "Several years ago, we produced a curved pergola structure for Jersey City, N.J., that resembled the tiara on the statue of liberty. That type of work requires people with specialized abilities.


"As with any form of building design, shelters have changed a lot over the years," he said, noting an example of the bandshell at Campbell Park in Huron, S.D., which likely was built in the early part of the 20th century. The bandshell was constructed in cast concrete and covered with steel roofing. Another example he noted was a stage cover in the amphitheater at Civita Park in San Diego, which was designed by Schmidt Design Group in 2016.

In addition, information Lubbers provided from a presentation on shelters took a look at the current capabilities in shelter design, and compared pre-engineered to site-built shelters, and focused on the advantages of using a manufacturer that offers design and engineering services. Most shelter manufacturers offer variations of these common shelter types in an array of sizes and materials and a range of prices. Some of the style variations include octagon, hexagon, pentagon and square.


The presentation stated that "While more common, 'off-the-shelf' standard shelters fit the plan for most recreational settings, more innovative ideas have been introduced that are creating trends in park design—such as craftsman, multilevel, trail and retro-industrial designs."

Other cutting-edge designs include a pergola, which "is a garden structure with an open framed roof supported by regularly spaced columns. The definition has broadened to include any structure with a slatted, latticed or otherwise partially open roof, which also includes garden arbors. They started being produced by the pre-engineered steel shelter companies in the 1990s, and are available in steel or wood, or combinations of both. They can be fitted with fabric canopies to break the overhead sunlight."

More progressive or cutting-edge shelter designs include "living-roof shelters" that "combine a green roof product with a steel structure to create a cool and attractive shade space. An engineered roof fascia is designed to work with a modular green roof system."

The Right Fit

To help determine which types of shelters and shade structures are best for your location, "Customers should determine their objective in providing shade: Should it just be functional and at lowest possible cost, and with a design that does not attract attention? Or should it make a unique statement at the site and create a distinctive focal point?" Bayman asked.

"Generally," he said, "the more of a statement one wants to make, the higher the price, so establishing a realistic budget based on options early on is important."


Graves suggested to "First, ask what the purpose of your structure is, how much space you have, and what budget you'd like to stay within. Each shelter is designed to complement the surrounding environment. Our in-house design team will create drawings and budget pricing by partnering with the client to realize their vision. Our engineers will determine the appropriate loads (snow, wind, seismic), calculations and foundations and stamp the drawings for your specific area."

She said that shelters and shade structures vary greatly, in both use and design.

"With our simplified process, creating the perfect structure will save the customer both time and money. We are constantly evaluating new products that can be incorporated into your design," she said.

"As the shade and shelter market grows and expands," Curtis added, "the best advice is to get a local dealer/rep involved in helping to explore different designs, styles and options available. The dealer will have a direct connection and support from the manufacturer of the units. They can share images of the future build site and an overview of the project's concept and desired outcome."

In addition, they'll gather site information that needs to be considered—everything from buried utilities and drainage to use zones for playgrounds and clearance requirements. "This information will help to ensure that the design of the structure will work for the space that is available."

Moore said that determining the best shade structure or shelter for your location is based on a few questions:

>> Is its main function to protect visitors and/or amenities from the elements?

>> Does it fit the theme or culture of the designed area?

>> Will it be the showpiece of your park or focal point of the design theme?

"The answer," he said, "may be simple or complex; it may be one or all three of these determining factors."


Lubbers noted that "There are a lot of considerations that can influence the design of a public space and the elements that will define that space. Someone has to have a vision of what that space is going to be, how it will be used and what benefit it will bring to the community. That's a start. The design of the elements can reflect the surrounding infrastructure or complement a natural setting. A shelter can be a center point that draws people into its space, or exist in harmony with other elements in an overall design that defines a larger space.

"How tired is the concept 'form follows function'? Some shade structures are minimalist with clean lines and no extras. Others are highly decorative or designed in a specific architectural motif," he added. "But the function can be the same for either. That said, you won't likely find an ornate gazebo at a rustic trailhead, or a heavy, wood beam picnic shelter in an urban courtyard setting.

"Then there's budget," he added. "We eventually come to that. But shelter manufacturers are capable of value-engineering any shelter to meet the original design intent, while staying within the budget requirements for the project."

Ultimately, when you add shade structures and shelters to outdoor spaces, you are enhancing "the overall experience of the facility for the people who gather to utilize the venue," Curtis concluded. RM