Feature Article - October 2009
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Under Cover

Shelters & Shade Structures

By Dawn Klingensmith

Hot in the City

When it comes to shade providers, nothing beats the beauty of trees. But fabricated shade structures have come a long way since striped awnings, rising to the level of art in some cases.

Embracing this fact, the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture in February put a call out to artists, architects and other design professionals to invent new forms of beautiful and durable city shade structures for the "Gimme Shelter" competition, part of Phoenix's efforts to revive its urban center as a "connected oasis" of shaded sidewalks, streets and open spaces, offering relief from unremitting heat.

"We wanted shade structures by day, but at night we wanted them to still look special," said Elizabeth Grajales, public art project manager. "We're growing really fast. In the evenings, people are going to the opera and out to nice restaurants."

In the first stage of the competition, designers submitted concepts for review by a selection committee composed of one panelist from the city's Shade Task Force, along with six others who, collectively, appreciate that artistry must co-exist with practicality.

As of this writing, the 188 submissions had been narrowed down to seven finalists.

"Some came up with really brilliant solutions for shade, and now we're giving them a reality check—we're assigning them a specific site," Grajales said.

During stage two, finalists will be paid up to $6,000 to further develop detailed designs and models. Winners will be contracted to complete a site-specific shelter.

Designers were urged to conceptualize new forms for "built shade," using beauty, scale, functionality and durability as guiding principles. But since Phoenix has nearly 300 sunny or partly cloudy days per year, providing usable shade is serious business.

"We're being scorched," Grajales said.

Therefore, contest entrants were required to consider how southern, western, eastern, overhead and low-angle sun exposures require different forms and solutions. Designers were also encouraged to combine built shade with living shade, and to make use of practical, sustainable, graffiti-resistant materials that minimize heat transmission and withstand unrelenting sun exposure. Plastics and fiberglass, for example, were discouraged because they are prone to disintegrate in the heat. Designers using metal were expected to keep in mind that metals get hot to the touch, and to design accordingly.

Judging the stage one entries, "We saw so many bizarre things," Grajales said.

A team from San Francisco proposed shading the entire city. Another entrant, who advanced to stage two, incorporated music into the design.