Back to all articles

What Are The Different Types Of Permanent Shade Structures?

Navigating the shade and shelter industry can quickly get confusing if you’re looking for a particular type of structure. There are many different types, and many different names for every type!

In this article we will cover as many of the common and uncommon names for permanent shade and shelter structures as possible. 

brigh coloured shade sails

Shade Sails

Other names: Hypar sails, shade cloths, fabric sails. 

Common Characteristics: Shade sails have two main components: shade cloth, and steel (or sometimes wooden) poles. The fabric has a distinctive twisted shape. 

Usually, between 3-6 steel posts is the most common.

Common Uses: Found in all corners of Australia, from outdoor classrooms and council playgrounds, through to backyard pools and front verandas. Shade sails are a very versatile structure. 


  • Cost effective
  • Can use multiple structures to span large areas
  • Easily customisable – both size and colour


  • Cheaply made sails will flap and sag
  • Usually only provide sun protection
  • Limited to smaller spans (up to around 20 metres)
star structure

Umbrella Style Structures

Other names: Star structure, umbrella shade, commercial umbrella.

Common characteristics: These structures have 1 post, with a fabric cover which is fully braced on arms which extend from the one main column.

Common uses: Perfect for small spaces, these structures can either have a centre post or a corner post and extend out over a small area. Perfect for sand pits, pool sides, small eating areas, and outdoor learning areas.


  • Easy to customise the colours
  • Works well with both shade fabrics and waterproof fabrics
  • 1 post


  • Must be square – limited customisation of shape
  • Limit to how big they can be (usually around 12mx12m maximum on 1 post)
covering your bowling green

Large span fabric structures

Other names: Barrel Vault structure, canopy, tension membrane structure, shade and membrane structure, dome structure.

Common characteristics: A steel frame with a high-tension fabric cover. Usually 15-20m span at a minimum.

Common Uses: These structures are commonly used over sports courts (basketball, netball, bowls, tennis). They can also be used over swimming pools and multipurpose spaces.


  • Large clear spans (no obstructions to sport etc)
  • Works well with either shade fabric or PVC fabric
  • Shape and size is completely customisable


  • Not recommended for small spaces
  • Longer installation time compared to sail/umbrella structures 
  • Integrating with plumbing/electrical etc is often overlooked
Greenline Sydney

Hip and Ridge Style Structures

Other names: hip structure, fabric roof, gable roof,

Common characteristics: Typically triangular frame between posts, with either a shade or PVC fabric roof. Better suited to larger spans.

Common uses: multi-purpose spaces, playgrounds, large outdoor learning areas, sports courts. 


  • Low-cost option for large areas
  • Low edge gives good shade coverage 
  • Colour of fabric and steel is easily customisable 


  • Minimal options for customising the shape
  • When using a waterproof fabric, water collection is difficult 
Sports Court steel structures

Steel shade structures

Other names: COLAs, Pergolas, Awnings, solid roof structure.

Common Characteristics: traditional shaped roof (gable, skillion, or curved) with steel posts.

Common uses: Steel structures are super versatile – they can be used for small areas like over a BBQ or picnic spot, through to walkways, and large multi-court sports facilities. 


  • Most durable materials
  • Customisable roof shape/design


  • Very hot during summer months
  • Noisy if care isn’t taken to insulate them properly
  • Can be fairly dark underneath without artificial lighting
  • Layout is not customisable – must be rectangular 
Commercial car shelter at woolworths

Cantilever shade structures

Other names: Walkway structure.

Common characteristics: Posts at one side, structure spanning out from there. Can be fabric (shade or PVC) or steel. 

Common uses: walkways, sports seating/grandstands, amphitheatres, carpark shade


  • Minimal posts
  • Unlimited length 
  • Allows uninterrupted sight lines 


  • Limit to how far it can span
  • Greater deflection (the structure will move a bit)
Shade Structure

Conic shade structures

Other names: Cone structure, Inverted conic, circus tent.

Common characteristics: High centre point with low edges, forming a cone-like structure. 

Common uses: seating areas, passive areas, eating areas, assembly areas, atriums/small courtyards.


  • Can have a large span across because it has a centre point.
  • Distinctive architectural look.
  • Can be designed with either shade or waterproof fabric.
  • Easy to customise the layout.


  • Often needs central support/posts. Not typically a clear span.
  • Can only be easily done with fabric.
  • High fabric usage in manufacture.