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


But whether made of metal or wood, certain designs are taking today's center stage: open-air and curvilinear designs like crescent pergolas and trellises and a return to classics like Greek columns are among the designer darlings being showcased in many outdoor spaces.

But regardless of the design, many of today's outdoor structures have one thing in common: They are getting bigger. It's about community and safety.

In the area of recreational rentals—cabins, yurts and tents—the trend is also toward accommodating larger groups of people.

"The biggest demand in the recreation industry" Stier says, "is will it sleep 10? 12? Pack them in, and it's one big party."

The experience has been similar with yurts.

"We've used yurts for about four years," says Brenda Hewitt, vice president of marketing at Chena Hot Springs Resort in Fairbanks, Alaska. "We have several small ones and one 30-foot one, and the people love them. The large one is popular, and in the winter, we use it to take groups to see the Aurora Borealis."

Structures for entertainment and social gathering are getting larger, too. Not surprisingly, one of the most common mistakes is underestimating the actual space required for a structure's purpose. Managers often find out too late that structures simply aren't big enough—the band they'd envisioned on the platform just doesn't quite fit.

Well-meaning architects or planners often determine stage space based on the number of seats or performers that will fit on a stage but forget to account for the space required for the musical instruments and equipment.

But accommodating our love of gatherings isn't the only motivation to build bigger—it's also about our health.

"Umbrellas with a 20-foot diameter have been the norm," says Pete Downs, vice president of operations of a tent and structures manufacturer, as well as a park and recreation commissioner of 18 years. "But now the need for larger shade structures have come into play. Recreation facilities have a need for increased shade areas, and the dimensions of these areas has increased to 30 foot by 50 foot, as an example."


Applications of traditional structures are changing, too. Log-cabin structures, for example, typically used for, well, cabins, are getting wider use as bathhouses, concession stands or even conference centers. When a rustic look is what you want, log structures can become just about anything. With the advent of the laminated log, which is kiln-dried to resist shrinkage and warping, log structures are even more durable than ever and are being used in bigger and bigger buildings.

Likewise, with the lower price tag that accompanies most fabric structures and the appeal of their temperature-cooling properties, fabric shade structures are appearing on walking, biking and dog trails where their solid-roof counterparts may have been considered too cost-prohibitive.

Tennis courts, too, are seeing a marked increase in shade structures for spectator seating such as at the tennis facility at The Florida Center of Daytona Beach, Fla.

"We are an event facility," says Dave Brown, director of tennis for the city of Daytona Beach. "We have lots of players and spectators with some of our large events—we host a vast majority of sectional championships for amateur players—so it just makes sense. Let's hope the trend is catching on."