Feature Article - October 2009
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Under Cover

Shelters & Shade Structures

By Dawn Klingensmith

Run for Cover

After hearing a Little League coach downplay the importance of sunscreen, William Barth, founder and president of the Skin Cancer Awareness Foundation, Minden, Nev., made it his mission to teach kids about the risks of too much sun exposure. Later realizing that the population at large needs to be educated, too, he developed the concept of the UV Warning Signal so people would at least be mindful of the sun's UV intensity.

Manufactured by the Solar Light Co. in Glenside, Pa., the device displays the real-time UV index in order to warn of potential overexposure in areas like aquatics facilities, golf courses, beaches, ski slopes and other outdoor areas. It resembles a traffic signal and uses a series of five colored lights to indicate the intensity of UV radiation. One swim facility uses the device in conjunction with an educational program consisting of handouts on sun safety and free sunscreen.

Proceeds from each sale of the UV Warning Signal will help support the foundation's education programs for children, including the Sun Smart Kids Cool School Program, through which free teaching materials are available for downloading.

Design Matters

Fabric shade structures provide varying UV ray protection. "Breathable" knitted shade fabric, or mesh fabric, is lightweight and allows some light through as well as some air, and allows heat to escape through the mesh. This creates a considerable cooling effect for guest comfort. Coated fabric traps heat but offers greater UV protection and is water- and mildew-resistant.

The cost and complexity of fabric shade structures vary widely. They can be designed into a variety of shapes and sizes—some so large that the fabric essentially becomes a vented roof, as is the case with the layers of fabric sails covering the entire Rotary Amphitheatre in Fresno, Calif. And some essentially become works of art because they can be twisted, angled and otherwise manipulated into all sorts of geometric or organic forms.

A temporary pavilion commissioned for the 100th anniversary of architect Daniel Burnham's Plan of Chicago is co nstructed of huge fabric panels zippered over aluminum supports. Architect Zaha Hadid's creation, which Chicagoans call "the Pod," is "an arresting combination of naturalistic forms and alien shapes," writes the Chicago Tribune's architecture critic, Blair Kamin, in his Aug. 5 review. The structure's shape puts him in mind of a conch, he writes.

The structure provides shade but also allows sunlight to enter through overhead slits in such a way that it interacts with an inner layer of white fabric. (Although pretty, this so-called "daisy effect" should be avoided when a structure's principal purpose is to provide shade, says one manufacturer. In the case of "the Pod," shade was certainly lower on the list of priorities for the famed architect.)

The pavilion in Chicago's Millennium Park is intended to be temporary, but permanent fabric structures on a smaller scale have been shown to be cost-effective, attractive and durable. With colored fabrics, fading can be a concern, so find out how the fabric is expected to hold up in your particular environment, Klug advised.

Inferior finishes can be a problem in certain environments, too. Your support structure can be beautifully designed and sturdy, but if it's not properly protected against the elements, your structure's looks and longevity will suffer for it. Powder-coating over an epoxy primer is fairly standard. Leading manufacturers offer a variety of colors. In seaside areas where salt spray is present or in other highly corrosive environments, additional coatings may be required.