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The Herman Miller Factory, Bath and North East Somerset

Description: The Herman Miller Factory

Grade: II
Date Listed: 16 August 2013
Building ID: 1415261

OS Grid Reference: ST7311564889
OS Grid Coordinates: 373115, 164889
Latitude/Longitude: 51.3824, -2.3877

Locality: Bath and North East Somerset
County: Bath and North East Somerset
Postcode: BA1 3EU

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Listing Text


A factory built in 1976-7 to a design by Nicholas Grimshaw of Farrell & Grimshaw Architects, for the American furniture company Herman Miller Inc.

Reason for Listing

The Herman Miller Factory in Bath built in 1976-7 to designs by Nicholas Grimshaw of Farrell & Grimshaw Architects for the American furniture company Herman Miller Inc., is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest: it is an important early work by one of Britain’s foremost contemporary architects, and expresses many of the key features of the British High Tech Movement;
* Technological interest: it is a very good example of an industrial building of the 1970s, built for a forward thinking client that demanded a fully flexible building which promotes the democracy and equality of their workplace and which reflected the avant-garde design solutions of the company’s furniture products;
* Historic interest: it is an important reminder of the history and development of furniture design and manufacturing in Bath, and in particular the prominent role this industry had in the production of influential and in some cases iconic, modern C20 furniture pieces;
* Group value: it forms an apposite grouping with the Grade II listed Bath Cabinet Makers Factory, situated on the other side of the river, which was bought by Herman Miller in the early 1970s.


The factory in Bath was built for Herman Miller Inc, an American office furniture making company, in 1976-7, to a design by Farrell & Grimshaw Architects. Nicholas Grimshaw, assisted by Jeff Scherer, was the lead architect. Peter Brett Associates were responsible for the structural engineering.

Sir Nicholas Grimshaw CBE (born 1939) is generally perceived to be one of the most prominent contemporary architects in England, specialising in industrial and commercial buildings. His work is sometimes referred to as expressing the characteristics of the so-called High Tech movement, also known as Late Modernism or Structural Expressionism. His most recent work includes London's Waterloo International Railway Station and the Eden Project in Cornwall. Throughout his life Grimshaw expressed a great interest in engineering (his father was an aircraft engineer and his great grandfather was a pioneering civil engineer). He was educated at Wellington College, and from 1959 to 1962 he studied at the Edinburgh College of Art, before winning a scholarship to attend the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London. He won further scholarships to travel to Sweden in 1963 and the United States in 1964. In 1965 he graduated from the Architectural Association with an honours diploma, and having entered into a partnership with Terry Farrell, he joined the Royal Institute of British Architects two years later in 1967. Since 1980 he has his own firm, Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners. In late 2004, Sir Nicholas Grimshaw was elected as president of the Royal Academy of Arts.

The furniture making company, Herman Miller Inc, was founded in 1905 as the Star Furniture Company in Zeeland, Michigan, by Dirk Jan de Pree, a devout Christian. In 1923 de Pree’s father-in-law, Herman Miller, became his business partner and the company was renamed the Herman Miller Furniture Company (from 1960 known as Herman Miller Inc). Until 1930 the company produced traditional wooden furniture but from 1933, after the appointment of the designer Gilbert Rohde, a line of modern office furniture was introduced. After Rohde's death in 1944, the architect George Nelson became Director of Design and a number of talented designers were recruited, including Isamu Noguchi, Charles and Ray Eames and Robert Propst, resulting in the production of some of the most iconic pieces of modern furniture. In 1961 the CEO Dirk Jan de Pree was succeeded by his son Hugh de Pree. Under his leadership the Herman Miller Research Division in Ann Arbor, Michigan was set up. Here the company’s famous 'Action Office' line was developed, best known for the open plan office with mobile division panels which revolutionized the office environment from the mid-1970s. It was during this period that the company established factories and offices all over the world, including in Bath, England, where the Action Office system was produced. After the building of their factory in Bath, Herman Miller Inc. continued to work with Grimshaw, and in 1980, shortly after setting up his own architectural practice, he designed their Distribution Centre in Chippenham, Wiltshire (a larger version of the Bath building).

Farrell & Grimshaw won the limited competition to design the Bath Factory in 1975. Other entrants included Jim Stirling, Foster Associates and BDP Arup Associates. Max de Pree, the Managing Director, gave an unusually short brief, described by Grimshaw in 1995 as 'practically a poem' (Amery, p.74):

It is our goal to create an environment that:
Encourages an open community and fortuitous
Welcomes all
Is kind to the user
Changes with grace
Is person-scaled
Is subservient to human activity
Forgives mistakes in planning
Enables this community (in the sense that an
environment can) to continually reach forward
it potential
Is a contribution to the landscape as an aesthetic
and human value
Meets the needs we can perceive
Is open to surprise
Is comfortable with conflict
Has flexibility, is non-precious and non-monumental.

In our planning we should know that:
Our needs will change
The scale of the operation will change
Things about us will change
We will change.

Grimshaw had great empathy with Herman Miller Inc, and, as one of the first developers of open-plan office furniture systems, he felt they were almost ahead of him in terms of their concept of quality, flexibility and change. Flexibility became the main driver for the design ‘as the balance of office, manufacturing storage and amenity may need to shift at any given time, and possibly for more than one client’ (Architects Journal, March 1978)

The chosen site for the building in Bath was a brown-field site on the north bank of the River Avon, opposite the existing Herman Miller Factory which had been built 10 years earlier (1966-7) to a design by Brian Henderson of YRM Architects for Bath Cabinet Makers (listed at Grade II), which would be used as offices. As indicated on the architectural drawings of the new factory by Farrell & Grimshaw (held in the V&A Archive), the structure of the rectangular building was formed by a 10 x 20 m steel grid that could be clad in fibre-glass panels, tinted glass or louvered glass panels. The cladding frame divided the elevation into a series of bays capable of taking any 6mm sheet material. As such the panelling was interchangeable to allow maximum flexibility. Additionally, the location of indent bays in the frame (for entrances or sitting-out), could be shifted, eliminated or increased to meet the requirements of changed (future) use of the building (Architects’ Journal, 1978, p 401). For the factory in Bath, cream coloured panels were used so the building would fit in with the pre-dominantly Bath stone buildings of the city. The cladding system had first been used by Grimshaw in 1975, at the headquarters for the music publishing firm Editions van de Velde in Tours, France, which shows striking similarities with the factory in Bath. Inside the Bath factory, in order to minimise disturbance to production, all service runs were planned on the roof, accessible via catwalks, and to allow for internal reorganisation on the factory floor, mobile toilet units were introduced which could be placed in 16 different locations.

On completion of the ‘Action Factory’ in Bath, as it was called by Grimshaw, he stated that ‘architects in the future must design their buildings so that they can easily be changed, either by themselves or others’ (Architects Journal, 1 March 1978). Since then, this flexible and standardised system, in being used successfully by Grimshaw for most of his subsequent industrial buildings in England, has become his trademark. From the early 1980s he experimented with different materials, colours and relief, further developing the complexities of the overall system, such as for example at the Factory Units, Queens Drive, Nottingham (1980).

The factory in Bath was extensively praised in the architectural press and won a number of awards, including the Principal Financial Times Industrial Architecture Award (1977), the Business & Industry Award (1977), the Principal RIBA Award (1978), the Principal Structural Steel Award (1978), and the Civic Trust Award (1978). It was claimed that the building’s cream and brown cladding harmonised well with the Bath stone of the city, and the landscaping of the site resulting in a leisure space on the river bank with fixed seating, which could be used by both workers and the public, was commended too. Furthermore, the building was perceived to express important architectural innovations in its design, which some believed reflected the recommendations made in the much debated Bullock Report of 1977 (Building Design, 1977 and Architects’ Journal 1978). The Report of the Committee of Inquiry on Industrial Democracy, chaired by Alan Bullock, proposed a form of worker participation or workers’ control believed to solve the chronic industrial disputes and enhancement of employee participation.


A factory built in 1976-7 to a design by Nicholas Grimshaw of Farrell & Grimshaw Architects, for the American furniture company Herman Miller Inc.

MATERIALS: the building consists of a six-metre high steel structure using primary and secondary beams with columns on a 10m by 20m grid gloss painted in yellow. It has an aluminium cladding frame holding two rows of 6mm thick vertically set rectangular, interchangeable panels of cream painted fibre glass (glass reinforced panels, GRP) moulded with a slightly raised profile, brown tinted glass windows, louvres, and doors. The fascia to the roof is also clad in cream GRP with curved edges. The GRP panels were repainted, again in cream, in the early 1990s.

PLAN: single storey open plan with offices situated on an enclosed L-shaped mezzanine floor situated in the south-west corner of the factory, with a smaller one in the north-east corner of the building. Both were inserted in the early 1990s and further extended in the early 2000's.

EXTERIOR: The visitor’s entrance to the factory is situated in the three-bay wide west elevation, which is highlighted by a full height indentation with curved corners, as are those to the entire building.
The south elevation facing the River Avon is currently clad in glass, louvres and GRP panels, but until the late 1980s this was broken up by two full height indentations functioning as external break areas. As shown on photographs and on the architectural drawings, when panels are removed in order to create alcoves in any part of the south elevation, one of the yellow columns (to the left) and part of the ceiling beam of the steel structure become exposed.
The north elevation along Locksbrook Road is currently also clad in glass, louvres and GRP panels. To the left and right are goods entrances, and until the late 1980s there was a central indentation with a staff entrance, which after it fell out of use was closed off using the flexible panel system.
The east elevation contains three central loading bays set at an angle. To the right, the GRP panels that form the cladding are pierced to accommodate the pipes of a large dust extracting plant installed in the later C20 (not of special interest).

INTERIOR: the factory has a plain interior with concrete floors, with an exposed steel roof structure painted in bright yellow. Hanging from the ceiling beams is a central steel catwalk painted in blue, allowing access to the services that continue to be attached to the roof, some now modernised. Extensive ducting and extraction points have been installed which link to the external dust extraction plant. The majority of the original aluminium lampshades hanging from the ceiling beams survive. The former toilet pods, which could be moved and plumbed into services at a number of points across the manufacturing floor were replaced with permanent toilet facilities in the early 1990s when the mezzanine floors were inserted, and none of these survive.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: six of the ten original circular outdoor tables and stools along the south elevation survive (repaired in places), each fixed on a concrete paved circular base.

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.