Architecture: BAAD?Wicked

Philip Bintliff turns practical solutions into visual triumphs, and he is often often inspired by pop music.

The tyres of the Toyota Landcruiser squeal under braking as it yaws into the industrial estate near Accrington. Light industrial units slide by like giant crinkle-cut chips of steel, the glinting anomalies of a peculiar void. Their outlines are sharp against a dense blue February sky, yet they simultaneously suggest something blunt, messy and Ballardian: vacuous spaces, the occasional chainsawed body part, sales charts spattered with blood, the plaint of a distantly echoing voice: "Would Mr Raskolnikov please return the axe to the display case in reception? Would Mr Raskolnikov..."

Philip Bintliff scans the sheds with a practised architect's eye. He's talking about pop music; something about the Beatles, and it's doubly apt. His face has a McCartneyesque set to it. Furthermore - "Can you see it yet?" he murmurs - he is within seconds of showing me something absurdly unlikely, the architectural equivalent of the Fab Four's Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite.

Like the best songs it's a brazen affront to the mediocrity around it. The sleek structure that jumps suddenly into pin-sharp focus is an industrial shed like no other in the land, which Isabel Allen, of Architects Journal, recently described as Bintliff's "masterpiece".

With its improvisatory approach to the rhythms of form and detail, Bintliff's Hebden Bridge practice, Studio BAAD - pronounced "bard" - is laying down an architectural riff whose slippery syncopations are being heard far beyond Britain's northern light industrial wastelands.

Even a cursory glance at the building's elevations - the swirl of its exposed flank, the bulges of the glazed corner sections, the bizarre yet elegant row of shade sails - is quite enough to signal that in the headquarters building of the pounds 30m turnover Simon Jersey garment business, Bintliff has taken inspirational ad hocism into the architectural charts.

If the exterior of the building presents an obviously beguiling palette of edges and masses and smears of light and shade, the interior is a phenomenal essay in aesthetic pluralism, a bold cut-up that reads as if surprises at every turn had always been part of the big picture.

The braid of these spaces and levels seem to have no immediately obvious beginnings or ends. The treasure trove of unexpectedly connected work zones contain stocking-filler treats borne out of nothing more than the need to keep building costs down to about half that of off-the-shelf steel boxes and offices in the south-east.

A taste of Studio BAAD's method reveals all. Lighting in the canteen area? Right you are: lamps and shades mounted on nearly vertical boards and covered tightly in brightly coloured Lycra. Flick the switch and, presto, a luminous landscape fit for the Clangers. Flooring? Large sheets of 25mm thick MDF screwed down in a diamond grid pattern which looks like polished butterscotch. That pesky problem about different rates of expansion and contraction between the concrete flooring in the boardroom where it meets the American ash frames of the floor-to-ceiling windows? No sweat: just stop the flooring three inches from the windows and fill the gap with white gravel. And what about getting extra light into the office under the boardroom. Obvious, really: you make the boardroom table out of a suspended disk of inch-thick glass, and the floor under it, too.

These are the bon-bons in a mixture which also contains brilliantly carried- out functional solutions, and three in particular. When Bintliff considered the staircase at the far end of the office area, he wanted three flights of steps in a glass drum; too expensive. His starkly elegant solution was glass-treaded stairs, lit from below and set in a shiny galvanised steel silo. It looks like a million dollars; it cost a few thousand.

But the most striking feature of the Simon Jersey building is its array of sails, set at an angle just outside the translucent end wall of the warehouse block and its first-floor multi-use area.

"It was first designed as a steel shed," says Bintliff. "Part way through the design development they decided it was going to be a quality-control centre - so design departments, inspection of materials, print and pattern making were all put in there; and the designers wanted more light on a south-west facing wall. We were kind of nervous about doing that, so we produced a translucent wall and shaded it with sails. And they're stood on tripods so they can be unplugged and moved outwards when the building's extended."

During the day, the interior is animated by subtle plays of light and shadow. At night, coloured stage lights are shone on the sails from the inside of the translucent end wall, producing a lusciously dense light show. "It's a kind of set dressing, really," he explains. "We're interested in ambient effects. And it's very, very cheap. We've had people driving up and saying: `Where's the party?'." Bintliff cites Disney and Spielberg as inadvertent players in "developing the central role of light and its manipulation in architecture".

But if this is set dressing, then Bintliff is an uncommonly unflappable director: the creation of the Simon Jersey building has been like an ER out-take, a continuing series of problems and want-it-yesterday improvisations, with Bintliff operating the SteadiCam and the editing suite. There is something microcosmic about it all, an encapsulation of the dynamism of a business that began in the early 1970s in two rooms above a clothing shop in Accrington.

"I think we try to challenge ourselves a little bit with form," Bintliff explains. "I always think that form is very powerful medicine, but it's little used. In a way, the form of a building too often seems to me to be the result of a pragmatic progress: the plan worked out like this; you group these rooms in this way; the corridors here; the entrance is here. And the building ends up wrapping that stuff up. Whereas I think there's another way, where you can have a sense of what a building might be like as an idea or an experience, and then you start to build a function element into that.

"We do try to seek out a kind of dramatic opportunity in any project," he adds. "It's a great facility when people have burning ideas to produce, but I've never been like that. I don't sit at home doodling buildings. I only do that if we get commissioned. For me, a building always arises out of a circumstance, a client - and even one sentence from a client can inform a whole design."

Which is why Bintliff enjoys dealing with what he refers to as raw things. "And have you read about this debate about layered construction and monolithic construction?' he asks. "I was amazed. It was an idea I worry about a lot late at night, but never realised it was a general concern.

"Architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson used brick facings to give the impression their buildings are hewn out of single layer of brick; comparing that with the idea of traditional layered construction, where you have some fairly wealthy brickwork, then you get some even better plasterwork, then you get some fine plaster, then joinery, then paint.

"So I've always tended to work on a monolithic basis, as though the material was the thing; the purity of that expression." Bintliff's eyes narrow slightly. "There's an American Indian saying I read about leave no trace. I'm really interested in that."

His touch is certainly light. And if the Simon Jersey building can be called a masterpiece, BAAD's design for the headquarters of the computer services company, Principal, in an old barn on the Broughton Hall estate, must be his box of Liquorice Allsorts. Stair risers covered in Freisian cowhide ("Cows were getting a really bad press at the time"), brightly painted softwood battens appliqued at crazy angles to glass partitions; MDF internal walls; and a minimalist kitchenette and tea-break area sheathed in polycarbonate. And all of it hangs together, tight as a drum.

Thirty miles away, in Cheetham Hill, Manchester, Studio BAAD's striking office and storage area for a textile manufacturer, Bedmaker, is a horizontal corrugated steel tube with a curving glazed entrance section and a trio of chubby metal tubes punching down through the roof - Bintliff calls them "light guns". Inside, the devil's food cake is in the details: delicate networks of chrome rods carry the black, rubber-studded stair treads; the elegant X-form steel balustrade screening a cut-out in the upper level. The only thing missing is the theme music from The Prisoner and a fleeting glimpse of Number Six.

But the crucial point about this oversized and slightly squashed cigar tube is that, like the Simon Jersey building, it is an affront to the lumpen structures around it. And its sheer isness funnels straight into a key image that has plagued Bintliff since the Gulf War.

"Do you know what an Apache helicopter looks like?" he asks. "The shape of it? Did you know that a platoon of Iraqis just gave themselves up as soon as they saw one of these things rising up from behind a sand dune? I mean, think of that, the shape of it rising up. Just the look of it was enough. That how buildings should be. They should make a particular statement, be unmistakable in some way."

And statements can arise from tenuous associations. Bintliff's concept for Hanah, a large distributor in Manchester, was prompted by the thumping bass intro from the Ace of Bass song, All That She Wants. It gave him the crucial idea for the rhythm of the grid design, "to provide events over the time frame of the entrance".

The practice's winning entry for Hebden Bridge's new bandstand - it's probably going to be a moveable flip-up platform on a track in the Rochdale Canal - was sold with another bit of impro: "We had an A1 gloss-laminated board with a collage on it, with bits of literature on it. There was a passage from Walden, something about `there were times when I couldn't afford to give up the bloom of the day to the work of hands'."

Which evidently leaves more time for head-banging ideas. Bintliff, whose team is currently concentrating on its radical, competition-winning design for Warrington's new arts centre, has begun to fret about something that melds architecture with psycho-technology.

He calls it "the WingThing" and hopes it will replace cars and houses as both a key necessity and new species of status symbol. His prototype happens to looks like a windsurf board and sail; but the idea is that, parked outside every house would be a piece of schizoid sculpture; it could be anything from a classic 40-year-old Alvis to a sleek space-age object that doubled as nerve centres which channeled solar energy, satellite communications, and filtered water into the home. New model WingThings would be brought out every year and would, themselves, become sought after.

The Landcruiser is burbling away from the brave new swirl of the Simon Jersey building, away from isness and back into the landscape of eerie familiars and the usual suspects.

Bintliff begins to say something about the WingThing's layers of meaning when the ghost of an Apache helicopter appears, dipping brutishly away behind one of the grim warehouses, the thackka-thup of its glinting blades fracturing into dubby echoes. Bintliff, an iconoclast who wants to produce icons without a past, changes the subject seamlessly and begins to speculate about the greatness of the jazz bass player, Jaco Pastorius.

Okay, Mr B, I'm going to call you on that. I dare you to take it to the bridge and riff it big time: design a building based on Pastorius' stunning 19-note intro on Birdland by Weather Report.

Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
life...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

    £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

    C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

    £60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

    Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

    £75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice