Landscape Architecture: Creating Exterior Spaces

Materials and strategies for enriching the outdoor experience
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Sponsored by Bison Innovative Products, Endicott Clay Products Company, Pioneer Landscape Centers, Skyco Shading Systems, and Thermory USA
By Elena M. Pascarella, RLA, ASLA

Expanding Outdoor Spaces With Outdoor Structures

Current design strategies put a great deal of emphasis on expanding outdoor living spaces, as outdoor environments provide both mental and physical health benefits. Outdoor structures can be extremely flexible in size, configuration, and design, giving architects and designers maximum creative options in designing outdoor environments. Outdoor structures are available with decorative options to control sun shading, wind and bug protection, and privacy, thus providing protection from sun, rain, wind, and flying insects and extending the use of outdoor spaces.

Outdoor structures are engineered so that they can enhance recreational and work environments for health-care, hospitality, commercial, and residential settings. These outdoor structures are designed to withstand and function in a number of weather conditions, as the roof louvers and side panels keep out sun, rain, and wind. These structures are designed for hurricane-force wind loads, with a Miami-Dade rating for certain sizes, and have temperature and rain sensors built in so that roof louvers will automatically close at the start of a storm. Side panels can be either shade screens or glass panels, and both help to buffer against wind.

The outdoor structures are available in a number of sizes and design options. Sizes range up to a maximum size of 14.75 feet x 20 feet to even larger if pergola structures are joined. Pergola structures include:

  • Square design models that have either a tilting and/or retracting louvered roof or an inoperable stretched fabric ceiling with a drainage system above.
  • Incline design models that have retractable fabric roof coverings.
  • Frame-only structures with no louvers or fabric coverings. These models allow for the planting of vines on the structure.

Structures are constructed of powder-coated aluminum with stainless steel hardware. The shade fabric is fire rated.

Options for Enclosing Outdoor Structures: Shades and Sliding Panels

Outdoor structures offer a sun-protection roof system through louvers. Louvers work via rotating blades, with each blade channeling water to the beam. The extruded aluminum blades rotate up to 150 degrees and thus enable the user to decide how much sun protection and/or ventilation is required. The closed louver blades form a waterproof roof under normal shower conditions. A gutter system drains the rainwater in the beams and down the columns of the outdoor structure.

Designers have the option of having up to five glass skylight blades in the louver system. The skylight blades obviously let in more sunlight during the day. There is also an option of having LED louver blades to provide nighttime lighting for the interior of the structure. Other LED options include cove-mounted up and/or down lighting and vertical column lighting on the inside corner of columns in either white or RGB color. All of the LED options are dimmable.

Shades offer wind and rain protection along the sides of the outdoor structures. Shades are operated using the same remote control and employ a “zipper” roll shade system that secures the fabric edges on the sides to keep wind and bugs outside. The zip shades come in various sizes. The Medium size option is 157.5 inches wide x 106.35 inches high. Large size options are 236.25 inches wide x 133.75 inches high. The fully integrated zip shades can be hidden inside the beam as an option for maximum passage height under the beam, or shades can be surface mounted in a matching headbox as another option depending on conditions and structure type.

Shades have a locking zipper side channel, which allows the shade to keep out wind, rain, and insects. Side channels were originally created for Japanese bullet trains, when speeding through tunnels pushing a shock wave of air that would blow roller shades out of their side channel. Now perfected for exterior use, the zipper fabric lock keeps the shade flat and smooth, and seals the edges to keep bugs out. It can even keep golf balls from breaking windows.

Shades can be mounted either on the interior or exterior of the outdoor structure, but the exterior mounting provides several advantages that also help to meet LEED and SITES criteria:

  1. With exterior shades, the heat stays outside the structure. The designer can use darker fabric colors to improve shade visibility without concern of heat buildup on the interior of the structure because of the locking zipper side channels.
  2. Exterior-mounted shades keep the mechanicals on the exterior of the structure so they are not visible from the inside.
  3. Exterior-mounted shades keep the interior of the structure and the windows cleaner if a combination of exterior shade and glass panel are used for the outdoor structure.

All exterior shades meet 80-mph wind resistance against the windows and 31-mph wind resistance in the open. They meet a Wind Class EN13561. A wind-resistance class is determined for every outdoor shade, screen, and blind system, accredited after strict laboratory testing as specified in the European Standards. The EN13561 references the testing standards for External Blinds and Awnings. Wind-resistance classes are set based on wind speeds:

  • Class 1 = wind speed 28 km/h (beaufort scale 4 – 40 N/m)
  • Class 2 = wind speed 38 km/h (beaufort scale 5 – 70 N/m)
  • Class 3 = wind speed 49 km/h (beaufort scale 6 – 110 N/m)

Note: The Beaufort wind scale was developed and named for British admiral Sir Francis Beaufort (1774–1857) who developed the scale in 1805 to help sailors estimate the winds via visual observations. The scale starts with 0 and goes to a force of 12. Hence the term N/m, which stands for Nautical miles.

The shades have hidden electrical wiring and use a smooth side channel for stability. Both the louvers and shades are motorized and UL electrical listed. Medium shades can also be solar powered because of a photovoltaic cell that can be mounted on the shade enclosure or nearby.

Photos courtesy of Renson Inc.

This outdoor structure features rotating roof louvers and exterior side louvers.

Outdoor structures meet the following LEED and SITES criteria for designers.

Sustainable Sites 8: Light Pollution Reduction (1 point)
The motorized shades contribute toward 1 point with automated solutions for shading devices, eliminating light pollution by blocking artificial light to the outside during evening hours.

Sustainable Sites 1: Energy & Atmosphere (4–11 points)
The mechanized and solar sensitive shading systems contribute toward up to 11 points by helping to optimize the energy savings of the artificial lighting systems and HVAC.

LEED Indoor Environmental Quality 6.1: Controllability of Systems – Lighting (1 point)
The shading systems contribute toward 1 point through the management of scenes between the lighting and solar-protection systems.

LEED Indoor Environmental Quality 6.2: Controllability of Systems – Thermal Comfort (1 point)
Motorized shades contribute toward 1 point by the dynamic insulation solution interacting with the heating and cooling systems.

Outdoor Spaces Benefit People and The Environment

Outdoor spaces provide many opportunities for landscape architects, architects, and designers to expand a project’s used beyond the building walls. Particularly in this time of COVID-19, ground-level plazas, patios, outdoor decks, outdoor structures, and roof gardens provide opportunities for healthy socialization, as they offer additional room for building users to interact in compliance with social distancing. The material palette for expanding into outdoor spaces includes thermally modified wood for decking, a variety of natural stone and permeable gravel surfaces, brick pavers, modular deck tiles and planters, and pergola structures.

There are a number LEED and SITES strategies that can have a positive impact on a person’s health and well-being and well as the environment. On-site plazas, roof gardens, and outdoor decks that are easily viewed and accessible from a building interior benefit building users and occupants while also providing LEED and SITES credits. Wood decking, clay-paver plazas, metal and wood planters, and wood-tile roof plazas are products that provide designers with multiple options for landscape architectural placemaking. Products that are sustainably produced and transported and provide reduction in heat island effect help to meet LEED and SITES criteria while also producing environmental benefits. Outdoor spaces that provide opportunities for physical activity, social interaction, safe site accessiblity, and equitable use of a site meet multiple criteria in the Human Health and Well-Being section of the Sustainable SITES rating system. And landscape architectural designs that expand user opportunities outside of the building provide wholistic benefits to both people and the environment.


1Cellulose is an insoluble substance, which is the main constituent of plant cell walls and vegetable fibers such as cotton. It is a polysaccharide consisting of chains of glucose monomers.

2Hemicellulose is any of a class of substances which occur as constituents of the cell walls of plants and are polysaccharides of simpler structure than cellulose.

3RAL is a European color-matching system that defines colors for paint, coatings, and plastics. The RAL color standard is administrated by the RAL Deutsches Institut für Gütesicherung und Kennzeichnung. RAL is the abbreviation of Reichs-Ausschuß für Lieferbedingungen und Gütesicherung. This name can be translated in English as National Commission for Delivery Terms and Quality Assurance.

4A bituminous setting bed is basically a sheet mix of asphalt, screeded by hand similar to how a sand setting bed is screeded. The bituminous setting bed is more expensive than sand set pavers, but it provides more longevity in vehicular applications.


Skyco Shading Systems, Inc. Bison Innovative Products
Endicott Clay Products Thermory USA
Pioneer Landscape Centers
[ Page 5 of 5 ]       
Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in September 2020


Landscape Architecture: Creating Exterior Spaces
Buyer's Guide
Rooftop Deck Systems
Manufactured in the United States with 20 percent post-industrial recycled materials, Bison Pedestals create level decks over sloped surfaces. Bison Pedestals elevate and support wood tiles, pavers, site furnishings, and a variety of other surfaces. Bison Wood Tiles are commercial grade, constructed from sustainably harvested hardwoods, and available in standard and FSC-certified options.
Bison Innovative Products
Clay Pavers
Formed from iron-rich clays, Endicott pavers feature extraordinary colors, beautiful sheen, compelling textures, and varied sizes, adding richness to every space. Capture design intent with the consistency and sophistication of clay products from Endicott.
Endicott Clay Products Company
Exclusive Arizona Brown Decorative Rock
Arizona Brown is the newest addition to the Pioneer decorative rock, rip rap, and boulder collections, and it is sure to be the go-to material for projects throughout Arizona. Mined in the heart of Yavapai County, Arizona Brown brings to mind the spirit of the Southwest.
Pioneer Landscape Centers
Camargue Louver Structure
The Camargue structure by Skyco can shield you from sun, wind, rain, and flying pests, essentially making the outdoors as comfortable as can be. The operable louvered roof can open for air or sun but also gutter away any rainfall, keeping occupants and furniture dry.
Skyco Shading Systems
Benchmark White Ash
Benchmark White Ash is the natural result of Thermory’s modification process. Each board is thermally modified using heat and steam, resulting in enhanced rot resistance, a high degree of dimensional stability, and a deep rich color. Benchmark White Ash is an ideal alternative to tropical woods in performance and appearance.
Thermory USA