Shelter Design Applications

A Shelter can be defined as a non-enclosed weather protective structure.

Bus or Transit Shelters are an active part of the streetscape in most communities. There they serve in three ways: 1) weather protection from rain, snow, or sun for transit passengers; 2) the public distribution source for advertising or public information on bus and train routes; and, 3) to enhance the appearance of the street environs. 

While Bus Shelters are definitely the shelter we see most often, there are several other popular shelter applications.

Smoking Shelters have become popular because they give smoking employees a somewhat remote semi-out-of-the weather place to smoke and control the butt litter. These have been particularly important in the health care industry as hospitals and other health maintenance institutions now compete for our health dollars. They can’t have loitering employees dressed in hospital whites or greens standing by the doors where customers, namely patients and family members, pass thru. A number of other commercial enterprises such as banks and grocery stores, as well as government entities, have a similar goal of keeping employees on a smoking break separate from non-smoking customers. Smoking Shelters often include a door, exhaust fan, heat and air conditioning, lights, and butt containers.

Passenger Waiting Shelters are probably the next key area. At passenger collection points, these shelters provide weather protection, security, public information, and light for passengers waiting for trains, buses, shuttles, and ferries. In Passenger Waiting applications, sliding doors, infrared heat, and air conditioning can be considered.

Another rapidly growing application, especially on campuses, is security. A shelter offers implicit security in an open area. Many campus security personnel are erecting shelters with a blue security light and a direct access security call system. This Security Shelter also gives a two-dimensional shape to an otherwise large flat open area, as well as a clear opportunity for rapid response security protection.

Covered Walkways in simplified terms are very long shelters. Weather protection and traffic direction control are the main practical purposes, but often the architectural argument of site enhancement is every bit as important.

Bike Shelters have become popular on college campuses and for bike riders who ride to bus and train stations as part of their commute. The Bike Shelter makes for a more orderly and attractive way for bikes to be temporarily stored. To conserve space, these Shelters often provide a way to hang the bikes by the front tire in a vertical fashion.

The Equipment Shelter is a catch-all term for a shelter used for ticket vending, pay-on-foot machines, or shelters over vending machines where the goal is to give the user and/or the equipment a weather protected, lit place to transact business.

The Access Control Shelter is relatively new and has gained considerable traction in the post 9/11 era as a way to gain control of employee access, egress, and identification. This Shelter will usually include a turnstile and some form of employee identification system. Employee ID control systems are now required in port shipping facilities, chemical plants, refineries, and other sensitive industries.

Finally, the Stairwell Enclosure and Elevator Enclosure in a parking garage bring weather protection and light to the location. 

Types of fabrication – The basic shelter is fabricated from extruded T-6063 aluminum structural members, either a snap-together structural member or a hollow-extruded tube. Both are very satisfactory. Aluminum, with its weather resistance whether anodized or with a baked-on enamel finish, is clearly the preferred structural material.

The glazing in a shelter takes a little more thought. Most typical is 1/4" (6.4mm) safety glass. While safety glass is breakable (but easily replaceable), its real claim to fame is that it is hard surfaced and easy to clean. Graffiti and wind blown particles are the biggest problems when it comes to shelters over time. Graffiti can easily be cleaned off of safety glass, and safety glass is hard enough that blowing sand and dust does not pit it. The Acrylic Plexiglass or Nexan are difficult to break or shatter but one cannot clean graffiti off these materials and over time they get pitted and discolor badly from blowing particles. This makes a shelter using Acrylic Plexiglass or Nexan look very old before its time. In this writer’s experience, safety glass is really the only good option and, if shatter protection is a real concern, opting for thicker glass from 3/16" (4.8mm) to 1/4" (6.4mm) or 1/2" (12.7mm) is a pretty low-cost option when one considers the long-term maintenance and appearance issues.

Another popular wall panel is perforated metal rather than glass. While glazing in shelters is not frequently damaged, perforated metal wall panels do allow a waiting passenger to see the approaching bus while still providing a wind and weather brake, yet sidesteps the potential of broken glass that needs to be replaced.

The roof/ceiling structure can vary significantly as the manufacturer strives to achieve one of several architectural styles. The most popular roof design includes a flat roof with a fascia gutter system, a mansard or standing seam roof, a barrel vault roof, and a clear or smoky Acrylic dome. Typically a shelter gets little or no maintenance once it is installed. This should be kept in mind when picking the style of roof. In this writer’s opinion, the Acrylic domed roof while popular, ages very quickly. This roof style collects dirt and leaves, and the desired open and light appearance can become dark and opaque. A shelter that looks prematurely old does not reflect well on the owner. All other roof styles will look better longer.

Most manufacturers make their shelters in a modular factory-built panel style for easy and speedy site fabrication. Construction can usually be done in well less than a day by two people. Shelters can also be made in steel and stainless. When the shelter is made in steel or stainless it is a shop-welded product and is shipped to the site, typically in a fully complete fashion.

The most popular layouts are:


Shelters can vary significantly in size depending on the space available and the number of people to be sheltered. Transit Shelters can be as small as 4' x 8' (1292.7mm x 2583.4mm), but generally run 5' x 10' (1615.9mm x 3231.7mm) to 6' x 12' (1939.0mm x 3878.0mm). Smoking Shelters are usually larger, 8' wide x 12' to 20' long (2583.4mm wide x 3878.0mm to 6463.4mm long). The nominal interior ceiling height is 83" (2235.2mm). Layouts 1-3 are popular for Bus Shelters while layouts 4-5 are more popular for Smoking Shelters.

Normally a shelter is mounted on a concrete pad. The pad is generally 12" (304.8mm) wider and longer on each side than the shelter itself and is generally 4 - 6" (101.6mm to 152.4mm) thick, with 2" x 1/4" (50.8mm x 6.4mm x 6.2mm) expansion anchors used to bolt the shelter in place.

There are several popular appurtances to consider in planning a shelter. Benches are probably the most popular. Benches can be made of aluminum, painted steel or wood, and may or may not have a back rest. Since shelters are outside structures, the best exterior life is going to be achieved from an aluminum bench, much like an aluminum stadium bench. A narrow bench or a bench with pipe armrests will keep street people from sleeping in shelters designed for paying passengers. Benches can be full length or can be partial length if one desires ADA compliant wheelchair space at one end of the bench. 

Display panels are also a consideration either for public information (bus route maps or posters) or for advertising. Display panels for bus routes are typically mounted inside the shelter and come in several sizes. Normally the display panel is attached to the shelter with tamper-proof fasteners which have a hinged-front panel with locking device.

The advertising panel is usually 4' x 6' (1219.2mm x 1828.8mm) and is lighted on both the “inside” and the “outside” advertising panel. These panels can also be mechanized to change pre-printed messages.

Lighting brings a clear sense of security to the shelter application. Shelters do not normally come equipped with interior lights. However, interior lights are available with double fluorescent bulbs or can be recessed in the ceiling of the shelter. Solar panels powering low voltage LED lights is rapidly growing as a way to provide light without having to take 110 power to the site. Maximizing the effectiveness of the solar panels often is done with motion sensors to turn the lights on and off as passengers enter the shelter and depart after dark.

In closing, it is interesting to follow the evolution of the 2nd generation shelter purchases. The basic functionality of the shelter has not really changed, but the clear anodized 1960’s Aluminum and Plexiglass look is moving to bronze and to a lesser degree white or other colors, as well as safety glass as the designer works hard to pick a shelter that compliments the surrounding environs. In some large cities they are going out of their way to create very unique streetscape designs using classic accents, like etched glass, ornamental iron, perforated metal, finials and fenestrations.

In general, design help is readily available from the shelter manufacturer. Specifications and drawings are also available from the manufacturer or one can easily go to or where the designer can create online job specific custom 3-part CSI specs and download the related drawings.

There is a great deal of industry design help and experience available which will allow you to add design enhancements that bring design excellence to the basic functionality of a shelter.

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