Feature Article - October 2013
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Serious About Shade

Shelters & Shade Structures Enhance Sites, Protect Patrons

By Dawn Klingensmith


Shade as Sculpture

When choosing shelters and shade structures, a number of factors must be taken into account. "Are you just looking for shade, or are you looking for weather protection? Does it need to be waterproof, or does it need to be breathable, allowing air to pass through? If you just pop something up with no airflow, it won't provide much relief from the heat," Haymann said.

In addition to function, aesthetics is an important consideration. Is a branded or thematic aesthetic important? Should the shade structure complement nearby architecture or natural surroundings? A well-designed shade structure can become a focal point, a landmark or a brand icon, Haymann said. It can have dynamic or dramatic elements, light up at night or be used to enhance or even frame a view.

"We've seen combinations of materials such as steel and wood used in creative ways," Roundy said. "Our main forte has always been the use of tube steel frames with a steel roof, but last year and again this year we are designing and building combination steel and log structures for a strong but rustic look."


Developments in the shade structure market include ease-of-use and adjustability improvements, including better rotation mechanisms on umbrellas.

A broader array of available colors and textures for powder coating allow for more imaginative designs, he added.

Dallas' use of high-profile architects to design new pavilions with bond funding resulted in "some very interesting, very arty shelters," said Michael Hellmann, assistant director of parks and recreation.

One of the commissioned pavilions "looks like a fluttering butterfly lifting off of the ground," he said. "It's bright red and really sticks out. The neighbors love it."

Also said to resemble origami, the Opportunity Park Pavilion designed by Elliott and Associates Architects in Oklahoma City consists of red and silver aluminum planes and is a dual-purpose structure—a shelter for picnics and a performance shell for festivals and events.

Proving that shade structures can rise to the level of public art, the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture in 2009 held a "Gimme Shelter: Ideas Competition for Urban Shade," inviting artists, architects and other design professionals to invent new forms of shade structures that are functional by day and visually appealing after dark to enhance the city's nightlife.

Undergraduate students at Arizona State University rose to a similar challenge last year, erecting a sculptural shade structure titled "Peritoneum," referring to the chest cavity. An American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) competition called on students to create a shade structure that is sustainable, buildable on a limited budget and engaging to the community. Originally built on a plaza on the university campus for $16,000, Peritoneum was recently moved to a downtown Phoenix art district. The design, which won the ASLA's 2012 Student Award of Excellence, calls to mind a ribcage — albeit a curvy blue one — and serves as a shaded passageway. The plywood structure is painted with a protective, self-priming high-grade exterior paint to keep it from soaking up rainwater and succumbing to Arizona's scorching sunlight.

The nicknames given to Peritoneum—including "blue whale," "dinosaur" and "giant ribcage"—go to show that the structure successfully engaged the community, along with its status as a photography hot spot due to the interplay of light made possible by the undulating "ribs."