Feature Article - October 2008
Find a printable version here

A Shady Place

Shelters to Suit Your Facility

By Kelli Anderson

Strike a Pose

Shelters are not only going green but are making their plain predecessors green with envy. People want them to make a statement.

"You can be so much more imaginative," said Kirk Danielson, principal landscape architect with T & M Associates of Middletown, N.J. "It can be a focal point and not just a functional apparatus. People overlook the details of structures that can incorporate into the rest of a design like seating and play areas. They don't pick out the other elements that can go with it like stone veneer to enhance it."

Breaking free from the status quo, manufacturers of gazebos, pergolas, umbrellas and many other shade structures and shelter types are offering more design options and custom features to allow their clients to better match existing buildings by using similar materials or to create a new look or theme for a new space.

In March 2007, Promontory Community Park of El Dorado Hill, Calif., opened its sports fields and play areas to the public. "We tied into a theme drawn from a natural open space area nearby," Oakly said of the whimsical butterfly and flower shade structures designed to provide protection for children and their caregivers throughout the play space.

When asked whether the park has been well-received, the response is decisive. "Absolutely," Oakly said. "In fact, more playground area will soon have more butterflies. They have wings that can adjust to compensate for the sun's movement—it's kind of neat."

Theming and attention to aesthetics creates an identity that draws the eye and the crowds. At The Falls Aquatic Center in Cedar Falls, Iowa, custom vinyl shade tops reflect the three different activity area color schemes and themes.

"Many of us in the municipalities don't give enough credit to the impact of the visual on the user and how much longer they stay," said Ward Stubbs, director of human and leisure services of aquatic facility. "The shade structure does a number of things beyond providing shade. I believe strongly in the aesthetics of an aquatic center—the colors have a huge impact on the visual impact of a facility. It makes it look bigger, more fun, more exciting."

Striking a more subtle pose—but no less unique—Drum Point Playground in Middletown, N.J., ensured its gazebo echoed the geometric architectural elements unifying the space. "We use shade all the time, but in this play area we wanted something different," Danielson said of his project. "In this park all the theme is based on an arc or curve. It's a subtle element throughout in the park's amphitheater, tot lot, reading garden and gazebo."

Whether simply wrapping columns of an off-the-shelf structure in stone to match nearby buildings or, selecting a southwestern-style-trellis to make a grand entrance such as that chosen for Allenwood Park in Allen, Texas, shade structures can be anything but boring.

"Allenwood Park is unique, and we used multiple companies for shade structures," McComb said. "We used a trellis structure with southwestern latilla as a gateway feature because we wanted a focal entry point. We're trying to introduce new shelters and change it up. There's tons of shelters now that are unique and even save money but still provide the basics—shade."