Shades apart

Louise Martin-Bennett of Fordingbridge discusses why an increased focus on user wellbeing is meaning that shading systems are more in demand than ever

With continued focus on user wellbeing, client specification of shade systems is now commonplace in UK architecture. Certain sectors, specifically education and healthcare, are requesting these benefits from a planning stage to ensure that their patrons are protected from the UV-related issues brought by the ever changing climate. Within schools especially, credit is given to specifications which take the matter into account for their pupils.

No longer just a mainstay of continental installations, both existing and new-build establishments are taking the situation seriously with regards to shade. The same is true within leisure. With an increasing number of those holidaying at home thanks to favourable weather and continental uncertainties, UK park operators are taking to the task and ensuring that their users remain protected, safe and as a result, more likely to return. Whether it be an independent caravan park or a national holiday operator, exterior shade is now deemed a necessity to support the comfort of patrons. Likewise in theme parks where shade is provided for queuing thrill-seekers prior to rides. Fortunately for design professionals, the days of pop-out, retractable sails more akin to that which you would find on the side of a motorhome, are a thing of the past.

The choice for shading varies greatly, each having its own merits and disadvantages, from inexpensive triangle-sails, which have the benefits of easy installation, and straightforward bi-annual replacement when worn, to more permanent and architecturally rewarding solutions. Favoured in the South Pacific, mounted horizontal louvres fabricated from timber and steel alike had become increasingly popular in UK architecture, providing a complete shadow over the facade of a building at the hottest point of the day thanks to clever angling of the materials and placement of the structure.

While these are praised for reducing ambient temperature on adjacent rooms, (forgoing the need for blinds), the reduction in natural light, and similarly the lack of providing a dual benefit with shelter from rain, means that this is a system that’s falling out of favour with UK end-users.

In fact, it is the dual-benefit aspect which must not be overlooked when planning which system to use. Despite the ever increasing temperatures the UK is experiencing in spring and summer, designers still need to consider that the UK’s somewhat unique weather system does present its own challenges. The low-cost shade sail provides little in way of protection from rain, providing nothing but a place for water to pool and grow stagnant, or simply run off in a torrent below. Similarly, louvres are completely ineffective against rain and sleet protection, hence the falling from grace with regards to their installation at a building’s entrance.

Architectural canopies represent a further option for architects and clients alike, offering both shade and rain protection for users. While there is a more considered approach to design and installation with such a structure, such an intervention ensures that these can deliver the project brief for a number of years, negating the initial expenditure. Here careful collaboration between contractor and architect at a planning stage is especially key, more so than with a shade sail alternative.

Considerations with regards to shading now fall further than simply casting a shadow on a building, and with the importance of natural light, longevity and user safety equally key, it stands architects and designers in good stead to demonstrate this understanding to their clients when discussing a brief. Whether it be an installation to be sited against a building, or a free standing area of shelter in open space, care and consideration should be taken when deciding on which method of shade is selected.

While public perception of overexposure to UV is now greatly increased, it is still clear that no-one wants to spend their time in a shadow during the warmer months. Equally, if the specified solution provides the additional advantage of rain protection, while still remaining visually appealing and retaining the above benefits, the end project will be all the better for it.

Louise Martin-Bennett is canopy draughtsperson at Fordingbridge