And now Umbrellas, Sails, and Signage

In Australia and New Zealand exposure to sun is a problem. I lived in Australia for a number of years and shade was a premium. A number of sail systems have been developed to provide out door shade. These are permanent installations, part of the architecture and design of building. They constructed to withstand the worst weather conditions. So they are considered part of the building with all the drama of building permits and resource consents.

In 1993 I build a pergola off the side of my house over a deck area. It was going to take some time for the deciduous vines to grow and give shade in the summer. I priced canvas awnings and shade systems. Apart from the expense, you needed a building permit to install them. All I wanted was a lightweight cloth, a bit like a sail on a yacht, to put up in the heat of the day and take down quickly if the wind came up. Some cup hooks on the wooden frame, some blue sheeting material, a bit of sewing, a set of eyelets and eyelet tools from Miter 10 and three hours work delivered a set of cotton sails for under $40.00. These sails have been in use now for ten years.

Even in the wind they billow out and vent the air without shaking the pergola. The automatic venting is the secret to antipodes weather conditions.

Umbrellas have become popular for outdoor entertainment areas, cafes and restaurants. The problem is that when the wind blows, they can blow out of their holders.

In 2003 I opened a small Café, wine bar, ( with an outdoor area for tables and chairs. There are a number of cafés on the street and I watched their umbrellas take off on a number of occasions. While sitting in the bath one morning I wondered if a conventional umbrella could be modified on the same principle as the simple shade system I had developed for the pergola. Voila, the UpDown umbrella was born. It works well and looks great.

Recently I have been thinking about how this umbrella system mimics a tree and it is really a biomimic of a tree so I have decide to call them tree umbrellas when they are fully matured. The umbrella, illustrated below, is modification of a standard umbrella, and this is a modification of the prototype based on flexible glass reinforced, and flexible, rods. This prototype has tested the general concept of sales attached at four points and that are able to move in the wind at the same time as giving shade and stress breaking in the wind. The mature umbrella (A Tree Umbrella) is constructed of flexible elements – a trunk and branches supporting interchangeable panels (leaves) that are like sales that can be changed depending on the season. Whereas a tree dose this by dropping leaves, or changing the leaf colour this system requires some action to achieve the trees sophistication.

UpDown Umbrella now called “Tree Umbrellas”

“So that’s how it works”

Just like a flower

Ready to Rock and Roll

At the moment I am using a pot as a base for the umbrella. This is not the preferred support but I am not happy with the usual metal plate or a hole in a table. While it looks great when there is no wind, in a breeze, everything is at the mercy of the next strong gust. The designs are currently being evaluated by a structural engineering specialist firm to advise me on the design requirements and systems of anchorage.


The advantage of this system is that the panels are only attached in four places with hooks. They can be quickly unclipped, a bit like a sail on a yacht, and can be easily changed. So the umbrella, like a yacht, has a suit of sails: waterproof, shade, and advertising.

The one disadvantage is the frame for the panels is too rigid. In the wind the panels vent but there is still a lot of wind pressure and the umbrella can still take off: it has on one occasion. I have revisited the umbrella and substituted the rigid frame with flexible fiberglass rods. The prototype works (see above).

The plan now is to take this innovation back to the UpDown house and to develop a range of options to provide shelter and shade. There is also an opportunity to use small sail boat technology to develop the idea around sails in general using fee standing masts and all the specialised fittings used in yachting and sail boarding.

Using canvas sails is a return to the historical origin of the veranda on early colonial house. The veranda was derived from a canvas awning that was attached to bungalow retreats used by the British in India during the summer. They were usually striped. Many of the early New Zealand houses had verandas of corrugated iron, painted in alternating colours, and the iron had a reverse curve to echo the canvas sheeting it was reflecting in the design. This was permanent cover, later, the bull-nose shape became popular and the default design

Sculptural Signage (Or, alternatively, Leaf Signage)

The concept is simple. Two or more rods inserted into the base. They can be attached at the top and the signage panel is then attached to the rods. The added advantage is in a light breeze the signs attract attention.

In this example, black cartridge paper has been attached to the rods at four points. This has been derived from the umbrella system. There area various treatments of attachments and a universal system is currently in the design phase that will work for the signage system, the tree umbrellas, and the sails for house.

Other treatments are under development. In this example a stone has been placed at the top of the rods. This adds weight and adds to the movement.

It is this form that is the inspiration for Leaf Signage.

Another challenge is sandwich boards blowing over. A gust of wind and bang – things flying everywhere. The idea of making something that works like a tree, something that gives into the wind got me wondering about adapting the sail idea to signage. Several prototypes have been built and tired and they work.

So watch this space for further developments.