The last element that should be considered during spatial composition is overhead structures such as gazebos, arbors, and pergolas. All these have outdoor ceilings that provide scale and protection from the elements in spaces where people will congregate.
Outdoor ceilings are very important design elements. Their heights, patterns, and character can be as varied as the walls and fences used in the design. Overhead structures should be given as much attention and used in similar ways as ceilings inside homes are used. It is important for designers to realize the potential of overhead planes as they relate to (1) height, (2) degree of openness, and (3) support of other furnishings.
Figure 11—99 shows an interior and exterior section through several different spaces. Changes in height and openness coupled with elevational change on the ground plane make for a variety of spaces. The far left spaces in both sections are closed and intimate in scale. As one moves through the other spaces to the right, they open up and become larger in scale. The important thing to note is that outdoor ceilings are as spatially valuable to outdoor use as indoor ceilings are to indoor use.
Not only can ceilings be altered to provide for different senses of scale, they can also be designed with varying degrees of openness for functional and aesthetic purposes. Figure 11—100 shows an outdoor structure that primarily serves as a shelter from the elements. Yet, portions of the structure hover over other parts of the space to create a patterned overhead plane, as well as places for hanging plants.
Figure 11—101 shows a structure that is supported partially by the fence. This overhead structure provides shelter from the elements over the table space and identifies a subspace beneath the lower patterned overhead to the right.
Depending on the situation, there may be times when there is no need to create a sheltered area, especially where houses have screened-in porches. In cases like these, clients may wish to have some partial protection from the hot afternoon sun. Figure 11—102 demonstrates how a patterned overhead arbor can be used to provide protection from the sun. The fence in the background, with a partially open central panel, was designed to accent this area beneath the arbor.
Arbors can also cast interesting shadow patterns on the ground and vertical planes. These shadow patterns provide texture and depth to an outdoor space and, by changing throughout the day, give it a dynamic, evolving quality.
In addition to ceilings being varied in height and in openness, it is important to use them to support other spatial furnishings. Figure 11—103 shows three examples of how overheads can be varied in height, character, and pattern and can provide places for hanging potted plants, swings, and lights.