USM Haller: An indestructible modular system

By Louis Yeh

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What is USM Haller?

What is USM Haller?


USM Haller is a renowned modular furniture system cherished by architects for its flexibility. It has a rich history dating back to 1885 in Münsingen, Switzerland. Originally a metalworking and locksmith's factory, the business thrived under Paul Schärer Jr's leadership during the industrialization wave in the 1960s. The name "USM" honors the company's founder Ulrich and birthplace Münsingen. 

 

Engaging Swiss architect Fritz Haller, Paul Schärer Jr envisioned an adaptable office space to match USM's rapid growth. Dissatisfied with prevalent wooden furniture, they formed a partnership, birthing the iconic USM Haller fitting system—a globally recognized design marvel that allows its users to reconfigure their furniture.


Fritz Haller
Swiss Architect Fritz Haller

Roots in Architecture


Having studied engineering at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH), Paul Schärer Jr., grandson of the company's founder, joined USM as the third generation in the family business and played a key role in developing the highly architectural fitting system - the USM Haller System.


Using sheet metal, steel tubes and connecting joint balls, the USM Haller System offers nearly endless ways to build your interior space. Though seemingly simple in its construction, the ingenuity of this system has become an icon for user-centric and customizable living. Paul Schärer Jr. was an admirer of modernism protagonists Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, which helped to inform the architectural nature of the furniture.


Schärer Jr's fascination with the modern industrial architectural aesthetic would lead to the commissioning of Swiss architect Fritz Haller (1924-2012) in 1961 to design a new office building that was flexible for the administration purposes and the production lines of what was then the metals factory. Haller was tasked to build the company building (1963), office pavilion (1965) on USM's site in Münsingen and the Schärer family residence called the "Buchli" on a sloped site (1969).


Apart from the USM Haller System, which can be found in places ranging from artist studios to fashion stores and museums, the company has expanded its product line to include integrated lighting features, tables, and desks as the world and its needs change.

USM Office
The USM office interior (1965)

1960s onwards


The 1960s were pivotal years for USM as it truly evolved into a world-class furniture brand. The erection of the business's new factory and office pavilion using a steel modular construction was incredibly flexible, allowing for various manufacturing processes and alterations. The building was so functional that it paved the way for Haller and Schärer to develop a furniture system inspired by its office building in 1963, and later sought a patent for in 1965.


USM Haller's position as a design icon was solidified in 2001 when it was included in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. In addition to this significant milestone, environmentally, USM was awarded Greenguard accreditation. The company has continued to expand its global presence with showrooms around the globe. Rarify is an authorized dealer of USM Haller, and can help bring your vision to life through USM's online configurator.


The "Buchli" Residence


Fritz Haller designed the Schärer house for Paul Ulrich Schärer in 1968 using the USM Haller MINI steel construction system. Situated on a slope overlooking the company's site and positioned parallel to the slope, the house would go on to serve as a prototype for future design applications with its MINI steel construction system and echo the spirit of modern living. Here, steel and glass help diminish the boundary between spaces for living and sleeping. The Buchli residence exemplifies many of values the International Style of architecture stool for, with modular construction playing a critical role.

USM office
The USM office, Fritz Haller

So… what is a Modular System?


In light of ever changing needs, architecture and design has the responsibility to adapt to our varying uses and demands. The constant change in how people live and use space, as witnessed in the last few years, have proven to be essential when homes are transformed into a gym, recreation, or performance spaces. The essence of a modular system should have the user in mind, adapting to cultural shifts and home expansion.

 

The flexibility of a modular system like USM Haller helps redefine the way we consider furniture and its lifespan. The spatial adaptability allows pieces to last and be useful for generations. A piece of USM Haller purchased 50 years ago is still compatible with the system manufactured by USM today.

How do you design a custom USM Haller piece?


Thanks to the modularity of the USM Haller system, designing a custom piece is very simple. 


As an authorized partner of USM Haller, Rarify offers the USM Haller online configurator to help you build your desired piece for your living space. 


The frame of every USM Haller is composed of two main visible elements: the chrome-plated steel tubes and the chromed brass connector balls. Hidden within the tubes are connecting bolts with a steel sleeve, which expand as the bolt is tightened to hold the ball and tube in place. These components are then typically finished with the application of steel panels (or glass less commonly), which fit neatly within the tubes with exceptionally tight tolerances. 

A metal joint from a USM Haller unit
Metal frames of USM Haller units. Click here to check out how a USM Haller unit is assembled.

Is USM Haller for the home or the office?


Conceived with flexibility in mind, the modular system allows the user to freely create their individualized space. Whether you want to turn your USM Haller into kitchen shelving (pictured), a nightstand, or office cabinets, the variety of tube and panel sizes enables execution at both a grand and at other times intimate scale. 


The most typical module sizes tend to be 30x14x14 inches (750x350x350mm) or 30x20x14 inches (750x500x350mm). The 20 inch / 500mm depth was used in office settings to maximize file storage for paperwork, whereas in a residential context, the 350mm height tends to be ideal for vinyl records and books. This being said, we love to see more slender or unusually tall modules used playfully, especially when they help to accommodate space-specific conditions or unique functions. 

USM in Office Setting
USM in the kitchen
USM for tableware storage
USM in clothing store

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