Feature Article - October 2009
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Under Cover

Shelters & Shade Structures

By Dawn Klingensmith

Getting Started

When choosing shelters and shade structures and their components, a number of factors must be taken into account, starting with what you wish to achieve above and beyond providing shade.

"The first thing to consider is, 'What goal do I want to achieve?' Do you want it to be architectural, or are you more concerned with basic functionality?" said Gary Haymann, executive vice president of sales for a Dallas-based manufacturer of five leading brands of shade structures.

For example, as part of a shade structure's functionality, is waterproofing essential? In that case, materials like coated fabric, vinyl or solid-roof structures are contenders, but lighter-weight, porous fabrics are out of the running.

Are you looking for a permanent structure, or do you need something that can be disassembled and reassembled fairly easily? That was a primary consideration for the North Carolina Zoo, Asheboro, when it opted for fabric shade sails to transform an area that was seldom used because of the heat into a pleasant, shady place for educational programming, increasing attendance by 15 percent or more. "We wanted something we could remove easily for the three or four months when ice storms are a problem, to avoid buildup," said Tom Such, exhibit design supervisor.

The design wasn't at all "dumbed down" to achieve that purpose. "It looks like sails on a boat, but they're basically horizontal instead of vertical. They overlap and are different colors," Such said. "I think it looks pretty cool."

Consider what is required of the structure. Is it intended for shade or shelter? Will it be portable or stationary? Must it accommodate large groups or small?

Besides function, aesthetics, cost (including maintenance), operation, durability and quality come into play, said Susan Klug, marketing coordinator for Water Technology Inc., an aquatic planning, design and engineering firm based in Beaver Dam, Wis.

"Aesthetic plays an important role as to how the feature complements or enhances the design of the facility," Klug said. "It may be a whimsical, branded aesthetic, or it may be complementary to or responsive to the surrounding natural environment."

For example, a fabric shade structure on a rooftop terrace at Mesa State College, Grand Junction, Colo., was designed to be reflective of the peaks of the Rocky Mountains in the background. It was also engineered to withstand heavy snow loads, proving fabric is a durable option.