Feature Article - September 2015
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Make A Statement!

Shelters, Shade Structures Go Above and Beyond

By Deborah L. Vence

With today's designs in shelters and shade structures more sophisticated than ever, aquatic facilities, playgrounds and other outdoor spaces are getting more than just protection from the rain and the sun's harsh UV rays. They are getting function and style, with structures that are being better fitted to a site's backdrop.

No longer are shelters and shade structures being designed as merely squares or hexagons. Now, the options are unlimited.

"It used to be that you would look at a company's shelter offerings and choose one of their standard shapes and sizes. [Now], you can choose a standard shape and the size can be customized by 1-foot increments. Or, you can go with a completely different design that has never been done before," according to sources from a Holland, Mich.-based company that specializes in the engineering and manufacturing of shade coverings.

No longer are shelters and shade structures being designed as merely squares or hexagons. Now, the options are unlimited.

Today, shelters can be made to better blend with their environment, too. And, the same type of design and colors can be used to complement the surroundings, with landscape architects being able to take a shade product and make it fit into their vision seamlessly.

"In times past, the gazebo at the center of the park or garden was a focal point. In many ways, that is still the case," said Richard Lubbers, vice president of marketing for a Holland, Mich.-based company that designs and produces standard and custom steel-framed shelters for the park and transportation industries. "Many landscape designs have a shade structure that grounds everything else. However, today the structure may have a more pragmatic purpose.

"Today's public spaces offer more than a leisurely resting place. They are often the center of activity, and today's shelters are more active than their static forerunners," he said. "That's why we developed the two-story shelter a couple years ago, and why we're adding more product this year. Because form follows function, today's shelters offer more to the public in the way of amenities."

Park benches and picnic tables have populated shelters for years. But, it is not unusual today, Lubbers said, to see a public shelter with a living room feel, in which friends and family members can put their feet up around a large coffee table on fixed couches in front of a fireplace.

"Furnishings designed to bring people together for activities in a shelter might include audio and visual, with the ability to plug in and charge, and connect via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth," he said.

Moreover, shelters are used as an "architectural sunscreen," giving "ultraviolet relief" to active participants in outdoor sports.

"We once covered an entire outdoor roller hockey rink in Florida, and a group of bocce courts in Ontario. The same is being done for tennis, basketball and other outdoor games," Lubbers said.

To create a more unique aesthetic statement, many clients of an Ocala, Fla.-based outdoor shade manufacturer have been asking for shades designed in brighter colors than in the past.

"The popular fabric colors used to be earth tones, such as forest green and tans for playgrounds, and blue for water activity areas. This year we introduced five new colors to our standard palette, including lime green, grape purple and fire orange. Brighter colors like those help a venue stand out by making a bold statement," said Alan Bayman, president of the Ocala, Fla.-based company that designs and manufactures pre-engineered outdoor fabric shade structures, canopies, umbrellas and awning covers.

Meanwhile, other trends in shelters and shade structures include polycarbonate roofing or non-traditional materials for roofing; and areas for people to congregate in the city as opposed to outside the city in the park.