Hands up architects, let’s talk shade

You know that feeling when you’re crossing the street to find a little patch of protection from the sun? Or there’s a group of you gathering underneath a little shop sail near the doorway for some cool air and sun relief? Welcome to bad design!

Hands up architects, urban planners, designers and sustainable city advocates amongst us! We want to hear your voices. Our cities, known for their urban heating, need more shade. Cities need many more trees planted – plans need to design for this (not just shrub on top of buildings but all around them). More than that though, we can build in a way that offers streets far more shade. Barcelona is a great example of this as is Spanish design in general. Who has been to LA? It’s a bit of a mess to be frank – and it is hot, hot, hot. Previously though the Spanish architecture included a lot of internal courtyards that are shaded, and covered walkways which provided relief from the sun.

Unfortunately shade has also become a component of status. Lush streets are a symbol of a lovely enclave that most of us can’t afford. Shopping areas shrouded in beautiful trees and creeping vines are luxury zones. Land clearing without much thought to vegetation has become a symbol of sprawl for the masses. Bigger verges and curbsides allow for bigger native trees and therefore more shade; something that tends to be reserved for affluent areas. People with more money can also generally afford to plant more, influence developers and lobby policy makers. Lower socio-economic areas string up their own shade sails and be fined for obstruction. We cut down trees along roads and in parks for more camera visibility in the name of security. Humble shade is quite a complex topic.

These days as we all begin appreciating our outdoor spaces a whole lot more and re-envisioning what our cities look like, we might take shade more seriously. Of course, this isn’t going to solve climate change but it is absolutely part of a sustainable city design and, being as we are already locked into certain heating, we need to adapt to this.

Highly recommend listening to 99% Invisible’s episode titled Shade, from a few months ago.