Art & Design

The Herman Miller chair at Bath Spa University’s Sion Hill campus

Article by Natasha Greenslade and Hannah Shilling March 19, 2018

Within the corridors and exhibition halls of Bath Spa’s Art and Design campus lurks the elusive ‘Herman Miller chair’. The chair is a product of an artistic merger between Herman Miller and Bath Spa, and milk writers Natasha and Hannah roamed the Sion Hill halls in search of this innovative art project.

First we met with Amanda Goode, Course Leader and Subject Co-ordinator in the Field of Design at Sion Hill, who outlined the history behind the creation of the chair. She is also a co-founder of the Independent Textile Makers and a member of The Slow Textile Group, so we felt in safe hands. She told us of ‘the former Herman Miller factory’, designed in 1976 by Sir Nicholas Grimshaw. The building, located on Locksbrook Road, manufactured furniture and now the university has made plans to ‘revitalise the area for a new campus for the students’.

As part of the new development, students at the Sion Hill campus were tasked with a one-week project to dismantle a Herman Miller chair and build something entirely new with the parts. With our interest piqued, we set out to view the early product of this artistic merger between Herman Miller and Bath Spa, which can be seen in the above photograph being modelled by Ollie Langford.

“Students threw themselves at the challenge and came up with amazing design solutions, where innovation and a passion for art are at the heart of every project”

Our search for the chair led us to the Textiles Department, where third-year student Tyra Moyo was in the early stages of an ‘exotic fruit’ illustration for an upcoming exhibition. Each Textiles student is currently working on individual projects with personal themes. Moyo’s fellow student is using monochromatic design. Unfortunately, she knew not of the Herman Miller chair, but outlined her surprising experience at Sion Hill.

Specialising in exotic fruit and flowers due to her ‘keen interest in bold colours’, Moyo explained how the art industry offers little help in creating bridges between student life and the real world. In a ‘survival of the fittest’ landscape, Moyo told how ‘they [the industry] don’t really have anything for me’ and that ‘contacts are hard to get’. As a result, she was pursuing her own way into the industry.

Continuing towards our goal of finding the Herman Miller chair, we ventured through all four floors of Sion Hill before coming across a helpful member of the administrative staff. She led our team to the Digital Processes rooms, to the handmade chair of a student called Maria. It was an unusual design constructed of wire circles; however, it was not the Herman Miller chair.

When we came across a hidden workshop, our time at the campus was drawing to an end. Luckily, Product Design students, Ollie Langford and Adam Meyrick, were more than happy to fill us in on the Herman Miller chair.

‘Hierarchy’ was the students’ theme in creating this chair. The idea was to be able to lift someone heavier than themselves onto their shoulders. Regrettably, the second-year students were not able to perform this feat, although they assured us it was possible. Adam recalled the ‘one-week project to dismantle a Herman Miller chair’ and the end goal to ‘build something else out of it’. They were given six chairs to experiment with. Fellow students created a sound sensory system out of one, while another chair was remade as a bed. Students threw themselves at the challenge and came up with amazing design solutions, where innovation and a passion for art are at the heart of every project.

Work has now begun on transforming the former Herman Miller factory into Bath Spa University’s new art and design campus. The construction aims to be completed in the summer of 2019, with students able to use the building from September the same year.

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