Seen and unseen - Outside

8 May 2024

MoDiP has been really lucky to have had some amazing donations over the years.  Sometimes these include objects that we wouldn’t have dreamt that we could have been able to acquire.  One such object is on display in our current exhibition, Seen and unseen.

The panel on display in the ‘Outside’ case is one of two pieces of the original cladding from the Herman Miller building in Bath.  The panels were removed from the Grade 2 listed building when it was refurbished in 2018.  Both panels have been cut down to show the internal structure, this was a relief when I saw them arrive as I am not sure how we would have accommodated the full panels in our storeroom, let alone put them on display.

The building from which the cladding panel comes from was designed by Farrell & Grimshaw Architects and built in 1976 for the furniture design company.  It won various awards including the Financial Times Industrial Award 1977 and the RIBA South West Award in 1978.  The Herman Miller company decided to sell the property as they wanted to relocate to Chippenham.   Bath Spa University purchased the property in 2016, after its use was legally changed. 

An external view of a large, low building reflected in water.

Originally, it was a single storey factory made up of a grid system of aluminium sections will neoprene gaskets fixed onto which are panels of glass, glass-reinforced plastic (GRP), and louvres.  The panels could be moved and switched around depending on need. The idea was that people without construction skills, including the factory workforce, could alter the cladding to suit their needs. For example, break areas, office areas, or areas requiring daylight could be created or moved, and the external look of the building could also be changed.

Two men removing a large cladding panel from a building.  One man is up a ladder and the other is stood on the ground.

In an interview with the architecture and design magazine, Blueprint, Nicholas Grimshaw discussed the decisions about using GRP.  He explains that it is a lightweight and ‘directable’ as you can make a cast and develop and change the shapes and that it was also good for making prototypes particularly when it came to exploring the curves of the building.

Louise Dennis, Curator of MoDiP