Blueprint magazine filmed an exclusive interview with legendary architect Sir Nicholas Grimshaw.
Grimshaw transformed an iconic factory that Sir Nicholas worked on back in 1976 into a modern, beautiful space for Bath Spa University School of Art & Design.
The original building was designed by Farrell/Grimshaw for Herman Miller. This new re-use project puts the building’s priorities of flexibility and sustainability to the test.
Blueprint magazine editor Johnny Tucker sits down with Nicholas Grimshaw to reflect on the project and its evolution.
Hit the play button below to watch the full conversation, or read the full transcript below:
Johnny Tucker: Hello, and welcome to this Blueprint 20/20 interview at Minotti. Today, I’m talking to Nicholas Grimshaw about his Herman Miller factory from 1976. Welcome, Nicholas Grimshaw. Can you tell me a little bit about the brief that was given to you by Max De Pree from Herman Miller?
Sir Nicholas Grimshaw: Some people referred to the brief as a poem. “We want the building to be eternally flexible. We want people to feel natural light, and we want people to work together and understand what each other were doing.”
Johnny: Now, flexibility and adaptability were absolutely key to this project. Can you tell me about that?
Sir Nicholas: Well, of course, first thing is to make it as flexible as you possibly can, so you can divide it up into areas where people were especially doing something, or it can be swept away overnight. So, we spent quite a lot of time on the geometry of the joints, and the thing fits together.
This idea of planning and circulation was absolutely critical. Because you could affect the whole layout of a scheme and you can lose maybe 30% of your workspaces if you don’t get the integration right.
The irony is, that these things don’t happen overnight. It took several years to basically see the fact, well, actually it is working, and that joint we thought was going to be absolute hell to engineer has worked, and we’ve got a system that hangs together.
Johnny: In this project, as in earlier projects of yours, you used fibreglass. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Sir Nicholas: Well, I knew it from boats, but it turned out to be slightly different here, using it outside and using it inside. It’s a very moldable material. We’d probably had more experience than anybody else doing that. It was the beginning of a flexible kind of design. I suppose you could say that it’s the start of where Zaha started.
She wouldn’t be anywhere without fibreglass, actually, to get… for the curves. There’s no other way of doing curves. I think people are much more ruthless now. They want to find a formula, and they want to find it fast, and they want to start using it.
Johnny: Can you give me your reaction to the fact that your very flexible building has now a completely new life as part of a university?
Sir Nicholas: We adapted it, and bolted things onto it, and gradually allowed it to emerge from being a factory to being a university, which is quite a big change, really. Everyone seems to be very happy about it at the moment. It’s very interesting how psychology plays such a role. They think, they accepted the fact that you could turn a factory building into a university, as a general view.
But then, all the things you had to do to it, to make it work, meant it got more and more compromised. People were saying, “Why are we doing this? Why aren’t we building it in Bath stone,” and all the rest of it, but leads you to the fact of sustainability. Much better to try and make what’s there work, than to try and reinvent the wheel.
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