Feature Article - October 2013
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Serious About Shade

Shelters & Shade Structures Enhance Sites, Protect Patrons

By Dawn Klingensmith

Dallas takes its shade seriously.

In August, Friends of Living Plaza—a volunteer organization dedicated to making Dallas' 5-acre City Hall Plaza a "livelier and better used space"—opened its weeklong SHADE display featuring locally designed and built shade structures to "showcase local talent and provide much-needed shade" in one of the hottest Texas months, according to the event website. Although 2,000 people work right next to it, the sprawling plaza is underused due to its lack of seating and shade. The SHADE display of temporary structures may, therefore, become an annual event, or a means of auditioning different structures before investing in something permanent.

Also in August, MLSsoccer.com reported that FC Dallas Stadium is planning major improvements, most notably "a welcome respite from the hot Texas sun." Hunts Sports Group, owner of the soccer-specific stadium, is looking at partial roofing options. "The message I hear from the fans is that shade is king," Vice President Dan Hunt told MLSsoccer.com.

If shade is king, its reign in Dallas is longstanding and far-reaching. The city's inventory of park pavilions includes historic structures from the 1920s and 1930s. In 2002, the Dallas Parks and Recreation Department completed a long-range "Renaissance Plan," followed by the successful passage of a bond referendum in 2003 for park capital development, including a sizable allocation for 23 replacement or new picnic pavilions throughout the city. A prominent architect was assigned to each project and instructed to build a safe, durable and easy-to-maintain shelter, "contextual within the surrounding community and embraced by the neighborhood." According to a map of pavilions produced by the parks department, "The replacement program was so successful that another nine pavilions were included in the 2006 bond referendum."

Shade is king. And Dallas is not the only city to take it seriously.

Shade Is Essential

On the whole, in new construction shade is "not as much of an afterthought as it once was," whereas it "used to be window dressing or icing on the cake."

In Columbia, Mo., the public has grown more vocal in recent years about the need for shade at playground facilities. Skin cancer awareness has fueled demand, in addition to playground surfacing upgrades to poured-in-place or tile products, which get hotter than wooden mulch, said Matt Boehner, senior parks planner for Columbia Parks and Recreation.

In addressing the public's concerns, the department has discovered in fabric shade structures an opportunity to implement colorful, thematic design into new and existing playground facilities.

"The nice thing about fabric is it has a lot more design flexibility," said Newell Roundy, president of a Dewey, Ariz.-based manufacturer of prefabricated steel shade structures. "We're seeing fabric acting as a focal point—not really blending in but standing out."

Fabric offerings and installations have "exploded" in the past decade or so, Roundy added, but at the same time, "since the economic downturn we've seen a surprising increase in custom steel shelters being asked for. I believe it may stem from architects and landscape architects having more time to devote to a project (due to the decrease in new project starts) and wanting to make more of a design statement."

On the whole, in new construction shade is "not as much of an afterthought as it once was," whereas it "used to be window dressing or icing on the cake," said Gary Haymann, executive vice president of a Dallas-based manufacturer of four shade and fabric structure brands. "That's not to say we're being brought in on the front end of all projects, but there's been improvement, definitely."

In Roundy's experience, "nowadays during the master-planning phase of a park, shade is always in there, just like you'd plan for walkways, restrooms, etc."

But when budget constraints necessitate cutbacks, shade is seen as expendable. "You can't cut turf or irrigation, but shelter is an easy change order to put back in later," said Roundy, adding that additional shade structures can be "phased in" once it's clearer how the public uses a park.