November 2010

Modular, Eco-Friendly Shelter Designs Can Reduce Costs

by Brittany-Marie Swanson, Assistant Editor

Today's transit shelter options are more customizable, adaptable and modern than their predecessors. Shelter designers are moving away from inflexible traditional structures in favor of modular designs that couple straight lines or unusual visual elements.

Transit shelter designers are quickly learning that to better accommodate their cost-conscious customers, they must move toward more adaptable designs. Modular shelters with eco-friendly options can lower both manufacturing and maintenance expenses. By giving transit authorities several basic options that can be customized to suit the needs of any community, designers save time and cut expenditures, while still giving clients what they want.

As the cost of solar panels decreases and the availability of environmentally friendly building materials broadens, designers can effectively market sustainable and energy-efficient shelters to buyers. These eco-friendly shelters are both appealing and beneficial.

Lower costs, easy installation

Today's transit shelter options are more customizable, adaptable and modern than their predecessors. Shelter designers are moving away from inflexible traditional structures in favor of modular designs that couple straight lines or unusual visual elements. These elements can reflect the community they serve, but the designs themselves are centered on a few basic structural forms.

"If we do come up with a new design, the next question is how we can make it marketable price wise," says Arthur Cohen, president of Columbia Equipment Company Inc., who points out that creating a completely new design for each project is simply not economical for most of his customers. "The nature of the business was not what I had envisioned when we started almost 50 years ago. We have certain basic structural systems that can be configured different ways and we can make up many different designs using those basic systems."

Columbia Equipment is one of many companies that offer consumers a choice of several fundamental designs, which can then be adapted to their needs. Companies such as DayTech Ltd., based in Toronto, offer shelter "families" that are grouped by roof design.

DayTech customers have the option of nine different roof types, such as an asymmetrical arch roof or overhanging dome roof. Despite the dramatic differences between roof styles, the families are tied together by their distinctly modular designs that can be produced using a number of different materials depending on the client's preferences.

According to Dion McGuire, president and chief operating officer of DayTech, "modularity makes [shelters] less expensive to manufacture and easier to install," which may account for the growing popularity of modular structures.

DayTech's shelter structures are also punctuated by walls of clear polycarbonate or tempered safety glass, giving them a sleek appearance no matter what the roof style.

"I think that there is a more modern flair to design now," McGuire continues. "We've tried to incorporate a more open, modern look."

Patrick Merrick, executive vice president of Tolar, says his company's designs have "more of a streamlined European look" that incorporates curves and shapes.

"[Transit shelter] designs continue to evolve as the transit districts and outdoor advertising companies set their bars a little bit higher as it relates to street furniture and as they get away from the traditional box-type shelter," he explains.

The company developed 120 custom extrusions over the years to provide better functionality to its products. Merrick says these specialized metal cross sections and gaskets "make sure that [the shelter] withstands the elements" and can give shelters a unique look.

"[The shelter has] to be modular, it's got to make financial sense and it has to fit within the budget," Merrick says.

According to Cohen, aluminum is perfect for use in transit shelter construction, since it can be easily extruded and made into complicated shapes. With certain other materials, achieving these more complicated designs may have required several parts to be riveted, welded or bolted together.

"With an extrusion, you're making a simpler design that's more efficient from a manufacturing point of view: Lighter so that it would be easier to handle, install and maintain, because there are fewer parts," Cohen says. "[Shelters made from extrusions are] more weatherproofed because there are fewer seams that could leak and better looking because there are fewer seams."

Tolar offers four styles of transit shelters: Euro, Sierra, Niagara and Signature. Each features a specific customizable list of options for the buyer. Euro shelters can be equipped with an integrated channel for water drainage or specially designed to tolerate cold climate conditions.

Sierra style transit shelters have either Victorian or herring bone perforated metal options and can be built with tempered glass or tough, transparent Lexan.

The Niagara series is comprised of a small number of parts, making it easy to assemble and inexpensive to ship by freight in kit form. The Signature model can be adapted to almost any community's design needs.  

"We feel that we stand apart from our competitors in that we are properly dealing with the functionality of our product," Merrick says. "The term we like to use is 'purpose-driven ­design'."


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