Feature Article - October 2017
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Add a Little Shade

Shelters, Shade Structures Mix Function & Style

By Deborah L. Vence

Whether you are spending the day swimming at an aquatic facility or picnicking at a local park, chances are that you'll find plenty of shelters or shade structures to protect you against the day's weather conditions—whether that's the sun, heat or rain.

With what seems like unlimited options, today's designs of shelters and shade structures are more stylish and colorful than ever before, adding character and charm to any area. What's more, the choices available often can be customized, enabling them to be incorporated into any environment and become a place to bring people together.

"Shade and shelters can now be planned and worked into public spaces to provide both form and function," said Scott Curtis, director of sales for a Red Bud, Ill.-based company that manufactures shelters, shades, commercial picnic tables, dog parks and outdoor fitness products.


A key step in deciding how you want to incorporate shelters or shade structures is to work with an experienced designer. "The best way to incorporate shade structures into outdoor spaces is to develop a master plan with a licensed landscape architect," said Richard Lubbers, vice president of marketing for a Holland, Mich.-based company that designs, engineers and fabricates shelters, gazebos, pavilions and more.

"That design process," Lubbers said, "is indispensable, not only in determining the needs of the community, but also in developing sustainable infrastructure that can meet those needs."

His company often collaborates with design professionals who are in the design phase of a project in order to provide engineering services on shade structures.

Previous architecture was used to direct the design of a shelter at Blackhawk Park, in Aurora, Ill., owned by the Fox Valley Park District. The old school, Lubbers said, was torn down, and his company's shelter represents some of the architecture from the school. The stone column bases will be brick from the old school. The shelter type is a custom barrel vault. The designer was Design Perspectives, based in Naperville, Ill.

Meanwhile, other experts concur that incorporating shelters and shade structures into a location is pretty simple, and that they can easily be added to accent or define a space.

"With many available color combinations, as well as imaginative shapes and configurations, fabric shade structures can blend well with any outdoor space and provide a lighter and airier skyline than solid shelters," noted Alan Bayman, president of an Ocala, Fla.-based company that designs and manufactures pre-engineered outdoor fabric shade structures, canopies, umbrellas and awning covers.

In addition to pavilions and gazebos over picnic areas, Jennifer Graves, marketing coordinator for a Holland, Mich.-based company that specializes in the design, engineering and manufacturing of open-air steel shade structures, pointed out some other ways to use shade and shelters:

  • Walkway covers and entrance canopies direct visitors where to go through stylish wayfinding, provide shelter from the elements, connect spaces and enhance surrounding architecture.

  • Trellises accent a walkway or seating area, and will easily fit into rooftop gathering spaces.
  • Structures can be added over amusement rides, lines, splash pads and swimming areas.
  • Athletic fields can feature coordinating structures for dugouts, bleacher covers and concession areas.
  • Amphitheaters can be added to create a central gathering space for community events.
  • Canopy structures can be placed over parking areas or transit facilities
  • Fabric shade offers limitless possibilities in shape for unique shade spaces in water parks, animal exhibits and theme parks.

"As the shade and shelter industry has evolved and grown," Curtis said, "there are a number of designs and styles that can be incorporated into a specific look or feel of an outdoor space, in addition to a multitude of colors that can be selected, from the initial design of a playground, an outdoor pavilion, a courtyard of a multi-family housing complex, a waterpark, and the list goes on.

"A shade or shelter can be created that works with the space to add comfort to the individuals that utilize that environment," he added.


Shelters and shade structures do exactly what they are intended to do: "They create an area of outdoor space for people to use that creates shade and helps protect people from the direct exposure to the sun," Curtis said.

Additional benefit of shelters is the way they create a space that provides both shade and a roof system that will protect occupants from rain. "Many times the shelters will also incorporate lighting and fans for additional comfort," he added.

Clearly, the ability of shelters and shade structures to protect against the sun is a key benefit. While wearing sunscreen and protective clothing can help reduce the risk of skin damage and skin cancer, seeking shade under an umbrella or other types of shelters is just as important.

"Benefits of fabric shade structures include protection from the sun's dangerous UV rays for people and property at an economical cost, since fabric generally costs less than the equivalent-sized solid shelter," said Bayman, whose company's products can provide shade and sun protection over playground equipment, bleachers, concession areas, pool decks, parking lots, waterparks, vehicle parking areas, and other outdoor gathering places.