Feature Article - September 2007
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Special Accommodations

Meeting Special Needs with Shelters, Shade and Other Park Structures

By Stacy St. Clair

helters have long held a role in the recreation world. They've kept picnickers dry on rainy days. They've spruced up otherwise-boring venues. They even helped Captain Von Trapp and the hapless Maria fall in love.

Park shelters can provide anything from the most formally designed, aesthetically pleasing spaces with breathtaking views that are beautiful enough to host weddings and other special events to informal, simple structures that provide a spot for a picnic. Shelters embrace a huge range of architectural styles that are meant to complement any type of setting. In more rustic, natural parks and picnic areas, a simple park shelter will do nicely, but in urban areas and more formal settings such as botanical gardens and campuses, you want to look for shelters that incorporate beautiful, architectural elements such as cupolas or even clock towers.

Here's a list of typical terminology you'll come across as you search for shelters and other park structures available to beautify your site:

  • Amphitheater: While technically not shelters, amphitheaters are often found in parks and other recreation venues due to their ability to provide so many programming opportunities. Usually a level space surrounded by a curved area that gradually ascends, providing for natural or man-made stadium-style seating, an amphitheater is ideal for hosting concerts, theatrical performances and more. In addition to manmade amphitheaters, there are many so-called natural amphitheaters, which are built around natural elements, such as the Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater in Denver, Colo.
  • Arbor: An arbor is typically a decorative, usually small, structure that provides privacy and sometimes weather protection. Usually found in a garden setting, arbors are often made of wood, though arbors of wrought-iron and more durable materials can be found as well. They often hold vines or other vegetation.
  • Bandstand or Band Shell: A circular or semicircular structure, a bandstand is what its name says it is. A simple structure designed to accommodate musical groups' performances.
  • Belvedere: The term belvedere was adopted from the Italian and literally means "fair view." So it makes sense that a belvedere would be a structure created with a view in mind. The actual form of the structure can take virtually any shape—a turret, a cupola, an open gallery. Basically, if there's a good view, it's a belvedere.
  • Cupola: This is a dome-shaped structure on top of a larger roof. In the world of park shelters, a cupola is the pitched top of a structure, such as a gazebo.
  • Gazebo: A gazebo is a decorative pavilion common in parks and gardens. They are freestanding, roofed structures that are open on all sides. In addition to being beautiful site additions, gazebos provide shade and shelter to park patrons.
  • Pavilion: A pavilion is a free-standing structure that, according to Wikipedia's definition, is somehow connected with relaxation or pleasure.
  • Pergola: The airy, mostly open pergola is generally found in gardens, and creates a shaded walk of pillars supporting a lattice or crossbeams above. The lattice often supports climbing plants to enhance the shady aspect of the structure. They are not generally used for shelter, but more for adding a bit of aesthetic beauty to a site.
  • Yurt: A circular structure dating back to ancient times, a yurt is a wood frame covered by fabric. The walls are supported by a wooden lattice. Some parks have made use of yurts as camping structures.