Shade sails on New York City’s Pier 5 park project add visual appeal and sun protection.
By Barb Ernster
The growing rate of skin cancer, now the most common form of cancer in the United States, and rising summer temperatures have Americans looking for shade and protection from the heat and sun. This has created new opportunities in the tension fabric market for shade sails, particularly to cover picnic and recreation areas, water parks and playgrounds, and even parking lots and walkways. As cities redevelop dilapidated areas and revitalize neighborhoods that are “recreation deserts,” shade is part of the planning.
These issues were confronted in a massive redevelopment of Brooklyn Bridge Park, an 85-acre park on Brooklyn’s East River shoreline that includes former shipping piers and ferry landing areas. The 650-foot-long Pier 5 (one of several piers) was developed into a sports and recreation-themed park that includes multipurpose playing fields, playgrounds, fishing areas with bait prep stations and the Picnic Peninsula with hibachi-style grill tops and umbrella-covered seating. The pier is lined with 26 shade sails on the northern and southern sides to shade spectators who can watch games from the bleachers and benches along the sidelines.
The shade sails were fabricated with Australian-made Monotec 370 Shadecloth, which is manufactured using 100 percent round monofilament HDPE yarns, known for its strength, positive memory that requires no re-tensioning and UV cover protection per AS4174-1994 standards. It is distributed in the U.S. by Value Vinyls, Grand Prairie, Texas. The company’s president and owner Randy Bush says the company has been promoting the fabric to engineers and architects since they first heard of it two years ago, which caught the attention of the Pier 5 project engineer.
“We’ve worked on making engineers and architects aware of it because of its unique construction, durability and warranty compared to other shade sail fabrics. It has a mono construction that provides minimal stretch, which requires no re-tensioning throughout the life of the fabric or the life of the structure,” says Bush.
Shade Systems Inc. of Ocala, Fla., designed and fabricated the shade sails based on concepts presented by the landscape firm, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc., New York, N.Y. Alan Bayman, president of Shade Systems, says it was a challenge to engineer the sails because of the sheer size of them, reaching up 30 to 40 feet from its lowest point to its highest point, with its dramatic swooping design. It required them to work with the fabric on a much smaller scale first to see how it reacted.
“Drawing a 3-D rendering and making it a reality is different. Sometimes the fabric doesn’t want to go the way it’s drawn,” says Bayman. “We created a 1/10th scale model prototype. When it was acceptable to us that the fabric was reacting the way we saw that it should, then we did a full-scale model for one of the shade sails.”
“They’re very high up,” he added. “If you’re standing next to one, it’s huge, so you have to work in a certain way. When you pull on those corners and they attach, each one has to have the same appearance in its stretched tension. Even for us, it took quite a bit of work to get that look and tension just right before we could get it into production. We’re really happy with the project.”
Shade Systems also built an intelligent hardware system to make it easy for a park crew to put them up and take them down, which is recommended for the winters. Bayman says any qualified contractor could follow the directions and recreate the canopy on-site.
The fabric works very well for shade systems that do not require watertight protection, such as over a dining area, but is intended for public spaces such as ball fields, playgrounds and waterparks that are not occupied in rainy weather. It allows hot air to escape, which is the main property of knitted HDPE.
Bayman became aware of the growing need for shade when he worked in the playground and recreation equipment manufacturing business 10 years ago before starting Shade Systems.
“There’s no substitute for shaded areas, so more people are becoming aware that public facilities, parks and pools need to provide shade. Tree shade is not always practical, nor is there enough of it where you need it. There’s nothing like a fabric structure that is more economical and aesthetic. You can do things with it to blend with the surroundings and make it attractive.”
Around the world, Bush says Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have the longest and most mature markets for shade sails, but the market is still in its infancy in the U.S. Shade sails are growing in the southern part of the U.S., with more usage for car dealerships, car washes, parking lots, outdoor recreation areas and even pet boarding areas with outdoor play areas, notes Bayman. Shade Systems recently covered a 115,000-square-foot parking lot for the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport in the Florida panhandle.
“As more people become aware of sun exposure, they’ve asked for … shaded areas, and public funding has been diverted to shade protection,” he says. “This type of fabric reduces heat build-up in vehicles dramatically. The temperature in a car can reach 155 degrees in an hour. Parked under a canopy, it never goes above 95 degrees.”
The Brooklyn Bridge Park is a nonprofit organization that partners with other nonprofit organizations. It received funding from the New York City mayor’s office to complete the restoration. The Pier 5 project was completed in November 2012 and has drawn a lot of media attention. Bush says getting some dedicated attention to the need for sun protection in the Northeast was a good thing for the shade sail market.
It’s a high-profile location,” Bayman adds. “People from all over the world will see them.”