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Variety in uniform

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Studio BAAD's extension for uniform manufacturer Simon Jersey in Accrington is a source of delight to both architect and client, who share an indifference to the anonymity of modern office space

Architect's account PHILIP BINTLIFF

Studio BAAD In 1993 Simon Moyle, chairman of Simon Jersey, took me to the top of Kilimanjaro to tell me that the extension of the company headquarters, which we were then designing, was to be shelved as the building budget had to be spent on upgrading the computer systems. The project was resurrected a couple of years ago.

Simon Jersey makes uniforms for catering, leisure and business, but as a client it couldn't be less uniform. It has grown dramatically throughout the nine years we have been involved with the company, outgrowing our first building, on another site, within 18 months. The first phase of our second building accommodated 90. As we completed this second phase, staff exceeded 300.

Phase two had to respond to and develop the visual language of the original. We have sought to bring the activity and variety of the high street or club to an out-of-town business park, addressing the problem that a single-volume office or shed does not seem to give much scope for variety. We have created a variety of places of different character linked within three or four large volumes. The design process developed through osmosis and discussion; there was never a written brief.

As a practice, we prefer to create as natural an environment as possible, with natural ventilation and light in preference to artificial. We are also interested in the development and application of appropriate technologies. Our three projects for Simon Jersey have been structurally glazed. The first uses reflective solar glass which modifies incident natural light. The second uses fritted clear glass to give shade and more natural colours to views. The latest phase has shaded clear glass, structurally bonded to purpose-made framing of American ash. The use of more natural materials in the construction was intended to distinguish this second phase from its predecessors.

Simon Jersey's designers expressed concern about the amount of natural light in the new R&D area, but we had proposed a fully glazed northfacing elevation. The final solution, adopted after the structural steel was manufactured, was to omit the metal cladding to the west elevation and insert a self-supporting translucent wall which could be relocated to permit future expansion. This was propped internally and supported by six tripods which carry fabric sails to reduce daylight transmission. These sails reflect light, and shade the interior during the day, but become almost transparent as internal lighting illuminates the translucent glazed wall they protect. On grey days the space has the calming light reminiscent of Dutch masters. On sunny days the sails cast animated shadows on the translucent screen.

Half of the perimeter of the lower-ground-floor office is below ground, and bringing in natural light was a significant problem. A rooflight allows light through two circular glass floors, the lower one of which forms part of the ceiling to the offices below. The area is suffused with top light during the day and backlit translucent ventilators give the impression that the building is above ground. As the balance of artificial and natural light shifts during the day, the glass floors are transformed from reflecting discs to limpid opalescent pools.

The whole process was something of a rollercoaster. Our initial requirement was for a 1600m 2extension to the storage building. As work started on site it was already too small, and we were asked to double its size. As work progressed, one storage area became R&D, reformatted for all design and quality-related departments. Much later, the additional storage was replanned for embroidery and packing. As the new two-storey office designs were developing, the decision was made to add a third floor - a circular office drum. This was really the last opportunity to add office space economically. Just as the building neared completion in January, we were asked to extend the building again for more customer services, production facilities and car parking. In the next few days, to make way for the next extension, the moveable sails will be on the move unless I get another invitation to Kilimanjaro.

Photographer's account JEREMY COCKAYNE

This building's visual richness is in part a function of the building's distinctive shapes - the sinuous south-facing elevation and the two- and three-storey drums at either end. But even more important to the camera is its texture: profiled steel, particularly when curved, does magical things with the light which falls on it, and is reflected from its surface. It is how a building handles light, and copes with shadow, which dictates whether or not it makes an outstanding subject for the camera. And this building looks every bit as good after dark as it does during the day. The interior comes invitingly into view, the eaves of the winding wall are emphasised by the blue neon lighting, the 'sails' across the north west elevation glow - a whole range of new photographic possibilities presents itself. I have been back six times since the first visit, to photograph the evolution of the Simon Jersey building, inside and out, and it continues to lift the spirit. This is not simply because there's usually something new to peer at from under the black cloth, but also because of the pleasure in seeing how the building as a whole is cherished by those responsible for its care: the gravelled area round the original drum is always carefully raked, not a single extraneous sign offends the eye - these are clearly spaces in which working is a pleasure.

Appraisal ISABEL ALLEN

AJ Buildings Editor When is a building complete? And to what extent should its integrity be protected? Where the fate of buildings is concerned, architects can be less precious than the powers-that-be: witness Cedric Price's horror at recent suggestions to preserve Camden's now-redundant Interaction Centre, and Michael Manser's battle against the planners to be allowed to extend the Heathrow hotel which he himself designed. For Philip Bintliff of Studio BAAD, the building is permanently in progress, rather than a pinnacle of perfection which should be preserved.

There is, he claims, 'no point at which you could say this is it', and he is sanguine about his masterpiece's fate - 'I wouldn't mind if the whole thing was pulled down.' He doesn't suffer agonies at coffee cups left out or furniture put in, or even spaces which are suddenly assigned a completely different use. The brief was never that defined anyway. He has designed, simply, a series of spaces which he enjoys, which are sometimes whimsical, always workable, and permanently ripe for change. Ad hoc scene-shifts are positively encouraged - a cluster of bamboo plants placed on a circle of gravel kept in place by a rope is currently the impromptu centrepiece of an office space 'which was looking a bit empty'. When occupant numbers increase, it will simply be swept away.

If the distinction between building fabric and theatrical props is decidedly blurred, it seems particularly appropriate in a world which is ultimately about dressing up. Simon Jersey wanted an office where clients could come to view wares - a procedure which combines stagecraft with commercial clout. Circular glass floors can be lit to provide a classic fashion-show feel, and the makebelieve settings are carried through to support spaces - piped sounds of whale-song permeate the WCs, and moonscape partitions bathe the dining area in an eerie glow.

The art of costume is technical as well as theatrical, based on an intimate knowledge of the properties of fabric, and the fabric of the product merges with the fabric of the building: its elasticity is demonstrated in the Lycra stretched over coffee cups to create the dining area partition's moonscape effect; its durability is tested in the lacquered linen bonded to the heavily used concrete floor at the bottom of the stair; its translucence is exploited in the fabric screens attached to office ceilings which temper the effects of artificial light; its acoustic qualities transform the uniform store into a sound-absorbent space - when stocks are high, the sheer volume of material and polythene swallows words as soon as they are uttered.

The variety in the building is a source of delight to both architect and client, who share an indifference to the regularity of modern office space. Bintliff has approached the project as though he were designing a building and its conversion at the same time: 'if SJ had moved into a Tudor mansion, we would try to make as much as possible of every last oriel window'. The result may lack rational rigour, but has the richness of a building which has been cherished and nurtured over time.

So should Studio BAAD's success be a lesson to architects to loosen up, in terms of design, and in terms of the construction process? Probably not.

The Simon Jersey building is the product of peculiar circumstances: a client company which thrives on fluidity, and delights in a building in a constant state of flux; a strong relationship between architect and client, forged over fish and chips and champagne, and nurtured on a trip to Dallas where briefing took place 'by osmosis'. It is unlikely that the client's contributions to the building's evolution would be quite so palatable if creative tastes were less in tune.

Studio BAAD has also been blessed with its location. An Accrington out-of-town business park may not sound like much of a blessing, but it does allow a certain freedom. The playful shapes and the ebb and flow of the building's boundaries are not required to stitch a hole in decaying urban fabric, or deliver a well-mannered bow to a historically sensitive neighbour. It would be a harsh planner indeed who discouraged a client willing to invest time and money on an architectdesigned showpiece, rather than the bog-standard crinkly-tin shed.

Benevolent authorities and understanding clients are also essential for a construction process which is catastrophic for the archives.

Documentation is for ever out of date, and construction is constantly leapfrogged by its own plans. As-built plans were specially produced for this article; the most recent plans in existence had already been superseded. 'It was going to be like that until we got the JCB on site, ' says Bintliff, 'and then the client said 'could you just dig along there?'' And these new plans are themselves redundant - the next phase of construction should be under way by the time of going to press.

Cost comment DAVID MARTIN Warrington Martin

The cost per m2 is low for a building with a large amount of curtain walling, glass floors, and large feature rooflights. This is for several reasons: the warehouse with its mezzanine provides approximately half the total floor area; both office and warehouse are extensions, making external wall-to-floor ratios particularly low; the building has few applied finishes; and the services are simple and low-cost.

A further reason was the fact that the shell building work was procured by negotiation with the contractor who had constructed the existing buildings. The unconventional design/construction arrangements relied on the contractor's knowledge and expertise in dealing with substructure and structural elements, and meant that the architect could choose specialists for the other elements. Those whose work had to be incorporated into the general contractor's works became subcontractors to the contractor. Where elements could be constructed after the shell had been completed and handed over by the contractor, selected specialists were employed directly by the building owner.

Discounts were obtained in exchange for prompt and certain payment, although the building owner incurred additional consultancy fees and his own management costs. These are not included in the reported figures. This method does require a client who is sympathetic to the design process and understands that the turn-out cost can only be fixed when the final element of design is completed and the final specialist contractor appointed.

Cost analysis

SUBSTRUCTURE FOUNDATIONS/SLABS £33.12/m2 Concrete bases to frame; concrete ground slab with ridge ground beam; part retaining wall to lower-ground area of office extension

SUPERSTRUCTURE FRAME £46.24/m2 Steel portal frame to warehouse extension; steel columns and beam frame to offices

UPPER FLOORS £40.07/m2 Timber construction and deck to warehouse mezzanine; part concrete and part glass floor to office extension

ROOF £31.70/m2 Trocal cover to insulated metal decking

ROOFLIGHTS £14.22/m2 Standard product lights generally with special siteconstructed feature lights to office drum and kitchen

STAIRCASES £13.48/m2 Part metal and part concrete construction with glass treads and feature balustrading to office stairs

EXTERNAL WALLS £67.30/m2 Colour-coated metal cladding to warehouse extension and rear/upper office elevation; curtainwalling to main office elevations

WINDOWS £10.78/m2 Translucent sheeting to form windows to warehouse extension with aluminium-framed punched window to warehouse. Fabric sails on steel framing

EXTERNAL DOORS £2.13/m2 Aluminium-framed glazed pedestrian door

INTERNAL WALLS AND PARTITIONS £5.04/m2 Metal stud and plasterboard

INTERNAL DOORS £3.90/m2 Translucent sheet doors in metal frames to WCs. Timber doors and frames to other openings

INTERNAL FINISHES WALL FINISHES £6.88/m2 Generally lining to wall cladding to warehouse and clad walls in offices. Plaster in WC areas. Starcloth on framing to office stair area

FLOOR FINISHES £9.11/m2 Power-floated concrete in warehouse and office areas. Exposed MDF decking to warehouse mezzanine. MDF deck on battens as accessible raised floor to offices

CEILING FINISHES £4.86/m2 Exposed soffit of roof to warehouse with plasterboard fire lining to mezzanine soffit. Suspended MDF sheet and fabric shades to office areas

SERVICES SANITARY APPLIANCES £0.57/m2 Fittings in WC areas

DISPOSAL INSTALLATIONS £5.67/m2 Above and below ground drainage

WATER INSTALLATIONS £0.92/m2 Supplies to sanitary fittings

SPACE HEATING/AIR TREATMENT £18.69/m2 Warm-air heating to warehouse. LPHW to office area by extending existing heat source

ELECTRICAL SERVICES £22.95/m2 Fluorescent lighting to warehouse. Power supply in warehouse for completion of installation by others. Mix of fluorescent and spot/task lighting to offices. Small power distribution in offices

BUILDER'S WORK IN CONNECTION £3.23/m2 Forming ductways, firestops and the like

PRELIMINARIES AND INSURANCES PRELIMINARIES, OVERHEADS & PROFIT £34.75/m2 Contractor's on-site establishment, management and head office overheads

EXTERNAL WORKS

LANDSCAPING, ANCILLARY BUILDINGS £65,000 Paving to form extension to existing car park and footpaths to building perimeter

Cost summary

SUBSTRUCTURE 33.12 8.82

SUPERSTRUCTURE

Frame 46.24 12.31

Upper floors 40.07 10.67

Roof 31.70 8.44

Rooflights 14.22 3.78

Staircases 13.48 3.59

External walls 67.30 17.92

Windows 10.78 2.87

External doors 2.13 0.57

Internal walls and partitions 5.04 1.34

Internal doors 3.90 1.04

Group element total 234.86 62.53

INTERNAL FINISHES

Wall finishes 6.88 1.83

Floor finishes 9.11 2.43

Ceiling finishes 4.86 1.29

Group element total 20.85 5.55

SERVICES

Sanitary appliances 0.57 0.15

Disposal installations 5.67 1.51

Water installations 0.92 0.24

Space heating/air treatment 18.69 4.98

Electrical services 22.95 6.11

Builder's work in connection 3.23 0.86

Group element total 52.03 13.85

PRELIMINARIES & INSURANCE 34.75 9.25

Total 375.61 100.00

CREDITS

CLIENT Simon Jersey

ARCHITECT Studio BAAD: Philip Bintliff, Paula Lewis, Jim Loftus, Andy Nicholls, Ray Phillips QS Warrington Martin

CONTRACTOR (SHELL) Eric Wright Construction

STRUCTURAL ENGINEER (SHELL) Booth King Partnership

STRUCTURAL ENGINEER (GLASS FLOORS, TABLE & STAIR) Dewhurst Macfarlane & Par tners M&E

CONSULTANT (FITOUT) McKenna Design Associates

SUBCONTRACTORS & SUPPLIERS shell: steelwork Killelea, cladding Range Roofing, glazing Hayward Glass Systems, sail structure Cooper Rigg, sails Landrell Fabric Engineering , fit-out: ceilings, signage, specialist joinery & furniture, decoration, electrics Innerspace, heating R&DPC Rapid; McKenna Group, heating offices Fishwick, glass floor, table and stair Hayward Glass Systems, table and stair Structural Stairways, executive furniture Vitra

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