By Henrietta Billings
We are delighted that our application to list the Herman Miller Factory in Bath has been successful – its architectural and and technological interest is now recognised by its new grade II status.
The Twentieth Century Society put forward this low rise, sleek building flanked by willow trees and picnic tables, as an outstanding and early High Tech factory by Nicholas Grimshaw of Farrell & Grimshaw Architects.
In their listing recommendation, English Heritage describe the factory as “an important early work by one of Britain’s foremost contemporary architects, [it] expresses many of the key features of the British High Tech Movement”.
“It demonstrates clear design strength in its carefully modulated colouring and profile which sits in harmony with the landscape in its riverside position”, they add.
Completed in 1976 as a manufacturing facility for the American office furniture production company Herman Miller Ltd, the factory – which is still in use by the same company today – sits on the bank of the River Avon, west of Bath city centre. Our application was prompted by fears for the future of the site following an announcement that the company is due to sell the site.
The design concept was to produce a unit that was economical in construction, maintenance and running costs, and adaptable to the requirements of the management, but also one which provided amenities for the workforce, and a building they could literally ‘work with’.
The single storey factory is a deep planned rectangular structure supported by a simple dual grid system of steel columns and beams. A special feature is that the cladding system which is demountable – it consists of a grid of rectangular hollow sections onto which panels of glass, fibreglass and louvres are fixed in using aluminium sections and neoprene gaskets.
It is based around the idea that people without construction skills – including the factory workforce – could alter the cladding to suit their needs – so break areas, office areas, or special areas requiring daylight can be created or moved, and it also means the external profile of the building can be changed around if required.
The cream coloured fibre glass panelling was deliberately chosen, along with the low sleek proportions of the building, to chime with the aesthetic of the surrounding Conservation Area and ‘Bath scene’.
English Heritage note that Herman Miller ranks among the most notable designers and manufacturers of twentieth century furniture, including the Equa chair and Aeron chair. They point out that as a prestigious firm, noted themselves for their industrial design, Herman Miller can be seen as the archetypal High Tech client.
The listing report states that the factory, “successfully fulfils the role of prestige factory in making a strong architectural statement that represents their brand and reflects the avant garde qualities of the furniture within it.”
The building won several awards including the Financial Times Industrial Award in 1977, and the RIBA South West Award in 1978.