Outdoor Sun Shade Structures

Gazebos and ramadas comprise a group of garden sun shade structures that are defined by their solid roof cover compared to the open beams used on pergolas and arbors. There is much confusion and overlap in terminology among the variations of the basic gazebo including ramada, pavilion and palapa.  Generically, they are all collectively referred to as outdoor sun shade structures.


All of these structures provide an architectural element to the landscape and make a garden more functional in terms of defining spaces. The confusing thing is that if you do a search for gazebos and ramadas online, you will notice that the solid roofs are generally referred to as gazebos and ramadas compared to pergolas which are mostly all open beams on top.

All garden structures are primarily made of wood, although steel, iron and masonry can also be used in their construction and design. The columns or posts used can be either wood or masonry, perhaps a masonry pedestal with a wood post above or any variation. A more European look for the posts and columns are columns made of cast concrete or carved stone to emulate the columns used on the buildings and which have detailed capitals and bases.

A garden structure with a solid roof allows much more opportunity to create outdoor rooms and protection from the sun and rain. Because of their solid roofs, they need to be shingled just like a regular building although gazebos and ramadas typically do not have sides – only the columns or posts that support the roof.

There may be low railings or lattice work on some designs, but the point is to allow a panoramic view out the garden from all directions. If these were attached to the side of a building, they would not be gazebos or ramadas and would be more architecturally accurate to describe such a structure as a veranda.

The shape can be square, rectangular, hexagonal or an octagon. Structures that are octagonal with hand railing and post/beam ornamental bracing are usually accepted as a gazebo as opposed to their cousins, the ramada or pavilion. Some gazebos, often more European built with circular columns with a round dome are sometimes referred to as pavilions.


Ramada designed and built by JSL Landscape

Ramada with masonry columns and roof shingles to match the main residence.


Ramada is an American Spanish version of a gazebo and is more commonly used to describe any gazebo-like structure in the southwest.  I tend to think of ramadas as being more square or rectangular rather than the more complicated octagonal shapes.




palapa JSL Landscape

Palapas are popular for a tropical theme or resort like poolside setting.

A palapa is a covered structure with open sides of Mexican origin. They are built using wooden beams, usually whole peeled logs with palm frond thatch for the roof structure over support beams. Palapas are found in many beach resorts in most tropical destinations and provide a more relaxed resort like style.




A pavilion, by definition is an ornate tent like structure used often to cover a temporary use such as for amusement or recreation. They sometimes are used to cover the spaces in between a series of buildings. The terminology is not used so much in residential garden use, as they are intended to provide for larger groups of people in a more public setting. You will however see structures otherwise known as gazebos and ramadas referred to as pavilions by manufacturers.


As a variation of the use of “tent like” structures, there is another category of structures designed both as a light weight open canopy collectively known as shade structures, or picnic shelters and sometimes called “shade sails” depending on the design. You could consider these as being gigantic umbrellas like structures but usually based on four posts rather than a single central pole.

Shade structure as sun shade sail JSL LandscapeAwning style shade structures are typically made using canvas that is tensioned and supported by metal posts and twisted steel wire cables. As a variation of the basic awning, they are primarily designed for their shade function rather than as a formally designed structure. They are found in both residential and commercial applications including playgrounds and picnic areas. Their use in a backyard is limited in terms of style and design since they are very contemporary looking in terms of style and theme.