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Creating Sun Safe Play Areas

By Sarah van Wezel, Sun Ports International

Landscape architects and designers are constantly faced with the challenge of designing safe and attractive play areas. One particularly important aspect is the need for shade and weather protection. The importance of adding a shade element to playgrounds is emphasized as daycare owners and playground designers realize the importance of sun protection, especially for children who are so susceptible to the sun's damaging effects. A rapidly increasing number of these designers have found that fabric shade structures provide the perfect solution for both weather protection and aesthetic appeal.






Deer Springs Park near Las Vegas, Nev. is an example of what is now possible through fabric in architecture. The playful park features 25-foot by 25-foot freestanding butterflies and flowers in varying angles utilizing HDPE fabric.


The Need for Shade

When it is sunny outside no one wants to stay indoors, especially children. But heading outdoors without adequate sun protection can lead to a sunburn that lingers long after the fun in the sun has ended.

Protection from ultraviolet radiation and heat has become a critical health issue. UV damage to property and equipment powerfully impacts facility managers and business owners. Adding a permanent shade structure to the playground area is no longer a luxury. It is a necessity. Unprotected playground equipment can get too hot to touch during the summer months, which can lead to children and adults being severely burnt. Equally troubling is that one of the most serious threats to children's health is that every time they step outside, they increase their chance of skin cancer later.

Skin cancer is the fastest growing cancer in the nation. The American Cancer Society estimates that during 2005, about 1 million new cases of basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma and about 59,580 new cases of malignant melanoma will be diagnosed. Exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays appears to be the most important environmental factor involved in the development of skin cancer. When used consistently, sun-protective practices can prevent skin cancer. A very common form of skin cancer usually seen in people over 50 years old is now being found in a younger group of people including teens and those in their twenties, according to the American Dermatology Association.






This 75-foot, octagonal, double-layered, super span with 16 panels is one of three at the Alexander Dawson school in Las Vegas, Nev. The panels are attached to perimeter posts and a clear span center connection. Colors were selected to blend in with the surrounding areas. Photos Courtesy of Sun Ports International, Inc.


Fabric structures do something solid-roofed structures cannot – they breathe. Fabric is permeable so as hot air rises through it, it creates a movement of air that reduces the temperatures beneath the structures by as much as 15 degrees. Fabric architecture, pioneered in Australia and South Africa as many as 40 years ago, creates a natural air-conditioning system for brutal climates.

According to architect Samuel J. Armijos, AIA, "Let's not forget the benefits of a shade structure in improving social performance." Social performance is improving a place or space where social interaction can occur. This normally occurs through "space making." Architects usually approach shade structures in terms of their novelty and long span capabilities, but there are so many other features that shade structures can bring to playgrounds to improve social interaction.

Adding Creative Flair

Fabric shade structures can be designed in a variety of shapes and sizes. Tensioned fabric can be twisted, overlapped and angled into any array of forms and color combinations. A number of overlapping sails can create an attractive accent. Innovative custom designs are now possible because of advances in fabric architecture. Increased style options from which to choose have led to choosier buyers. Styles are expected to become more and more distinctive as facilities try to create an image they want to project. A number of material choices are available in today's market, including Teflon coated fiberglass or PTFE, hybrid forms of PTFE, Ethylene tetra ethylene (ETFE), vinyl coated polyester (PVC) and high density polyethylene (HDPE).






The Full Sail style features four overlapping layers of shade panels. From afar, the overall visual effect is one of color, lightness and the melding of arcs and angles. Beneath the structures, the temperature is often 15 to 30 degrees cooler on a sunny day. Photo Courtesy of Landscape Structures


If water protection and protecting oneself from the elements is the premier consideration, vinyl coated polyester (PVC) is the choice. It has a life span of 10 to 15 years and comes in variety of colors. If shade is the primary concern, the material of choice is high-density polyethylene (HDPE). The material is perforated and transmits light.

Playground Equipment And Shade Structure Manufacturers Team Up

A number of playground equipment manufacturers have noticed the growing demand for shade. Partnering with a shade manufacturer can lead to a number of creative possibilities. One such company that partnered up with Sun Ports International, Inc. is Park Place Recreation Designs based in San Antonio, Texas.

“It’s a beautiful thing when design comes together to create a visually exciting space. Adding a Sun Ports permanent shade structure is not just putting a lid over the playground. It defines the environment, and adds drama to the play experience,” states Bob Ahrens, of Park Place Recreation Designs. “South Texas can be brutally hot, and being under the shaded areas is actually quite comfortable. The playground would have been off limits during the heat of the day. This greatly increases the hours of usage.”






Protection from ultraviolet radiation and heat has become a critical health issue. UV damage to property and equipment powerfully impacts facility managers and business owners. Adding a permanent shade structure to the playground area may soon be seen as a necessity. Photo Courtesy of Sun Ports International, Inc.


By integrating the shade system directly into the playground equipment designers can provide playground sun protection directly to the places where children will need it most. Adding misting features with spray heads that children can activate, when they like sprays a fine, cooling mist for 10 seconds. This is particularly popular at skateparks where riders enjoy a cool break from their high-energy sports.

Adding a permanent shade structure to a play area is one way to create a cool and sun-safe play environment.

For more information, go to: www.usa-shade.com



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December 6, 2019, 12:53 pm PDT

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