Feature Article - October 2004
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Got it Covered

Adding the right outdoor elements, including shelters, gazebos and building structures

By Kelli Anderson


The introduction of such avant-garde designs that are now possible because of fabric architecture has increased the style options from which to choose. And buyers are getting choosier. Structures—especially those that become a focal point for a community or facility, like gazebos, pavilions or band shells—are expected to become more and more distinctive as municipalities ask themselves who they are or what image they want to project. It's about setting your facility apart.

Customizing designs of outdoor structures is one way communities can create and identity or theme around something that they can connect to and be proud of.

"More and more are doing custom work," agrees Jason Amber, vice president and landscape architect with Brauer and Associates, Ltd. in Hopkins, Minn. "They want to come up with something that's not the same old thing."

Structures, large and small, are being customized to either try to echo the existing building styles for the sake of continuity or to establish the new look they are trying to achieve. Either way, custom designs are the solution for the collective identity crisis.

When assessing the look your facility or community desires, consider both the style and the materials that will go into your outdoor structure. Typically, structures made of wood or hard-topped structures like gazebos, pergolas and pavilions tend to be selected for the more classical designs. Neoclassical for these forms is all the rage.

Those who crave a more organic, free-form feel tend to be drawn to soft-topped structures, which are ideal for entertainment venues where it's all about sizzle and pop. But metal can go either way. Metal—steel or aluminum depending on the application—is being used for the traditional look as well as the modern, where eye-catching new designs beckon a retreat from the summer heat and double as sculptural art.


Then there is the appeal of steel. By far the most widely used material is steel, popular for its strength, durability, design versatility, lure of easier maintenance thanks to special processing like powder coating or corrosion-resistant paints, and—until recent changes in the international climate with NAFTA—its affordability. For many outdoor structures, tubular steel, with a durability ranging from 10 to 15 years, is the material of choice and can be seen in designs ranging from the most traditional, like gazebos, to the most modern.

However, because of recent changes in the price of steel, other materials that were once considered too pricey are now more affordable by comparison. Laminated wood, for example, still one of the most expensive choices, can be the most long-lasting—40 to 50 years—and requires very little maintenance. Many projects for which steel might have been the only consideration in the past are now using laminated wood in their designs with very happy results. Its beauty and strength make it hard to beat.