The Historia Supellexalis: “S” for Switzerland

The Historia Supellexalis S for Switzerland


A Confoederatio; A Range; A Context

For a great many centuries the lands of the contemporary Switzerland were unknown, locked as they were behind and between the towering, daunting, peaks of the Toblerone cordillera; but then a fearless explorer by the name of Heidi, together with her cook Thomas, broke through the once impenetrable Toblerone and discovered a region of vibrant, viridescent valley pastures populated by cows, sheeps, goats, marmots and innumerable quadrilingual peoples who lived in perfect harmony with their natural environment, and who nourished themselves on a simple diet featuring a milk drenched mix of grains, nuts and fruits in the morning and bread dipped in slightly alcoholic cheese in the afternoon. All washed down with the cold, fresh, crystal clear water of the many mountain streams. A diet based on the rich and plentisome produce their simple mountain life provided. An idyllic simple mountain life, a rural utopia, not only unknown, but unimaginable to those first visitors.

And while the cook Thomas returned to his native England to tell tales of the newly discovered country, tales which encouraged a great many to travel to the region to view the land and the people the cook Thomas had so described, Heidi made herself at home in the high peaks of the Toblerone where, without the services of Thomas, she adopted the local diet and kept copious diaries of her observations on and exchanges with the the peoples of the contemporary Switzerland.

Diaries which contain some of the most complete and detailed descriptions of Swiss society, and in which one also finds the earliest descriptions of the earliest (hi)story of the contemporary Switzerland, a, as Heidi records, nation constituted from a loosely bound collective, a cantonation, of ancient peoples, including, and amongst many, many others, the Röthlisberger, the Horgenglarus, the Usm, the Wohnbedarf, the Embru, or the Vitronians whose contemporary Commonwealth of Vitra was initially established across a number of fields on the banks of the river Birs in the north-western corner of the Toblerone cordillera.

A cantonation of ancient peoples who, as Heidi’s diaries inform us, had, before the development of the contemporary Switzerland with its harmonic pluralism, led largely isolated, singular, existences in their own Toblerone valleys, and where they had all developed their own particular approach to and materials for furniture design and construction: the Usm, for example, forming the abundant brass of Switzerland into small balls which served as the basis for a modular storage system; the Horgenglarus perfecting the bending of wood into circles for their chairs; or the Embru who perfected the bending of metallic tubes into all manner of forms for whole collections of furniture objects.

In addition Heidi’s diaries make note of some of the more notable early protagonists of furniture design in the valleys of the contemporary Switzerland, including, and amongst many others, the Horgenglarian Jür Gbally, a Coray universally known as Hans, the the Wohnhilfer müller Jacob, the Wohnbedarfer Han Sgugelot, the Werkbündler Will Helmkienzle, the Dietker Will Yguhl, a designer Heidi notes was also most influential as a teacher. Or, and about whom we learn an awful lot from Heidi, a Usmer by the name of Fritz, who although a Haller, a builder of traditional Swiss steel Hallen, by trade, was instrumental in the development of the modular metal storage furniture system of the Usm, a modular metal storage furniture system that, as Heidi attests, represents one of oldest examples of vernacular Swiss furniture.

Vernacular Swiss furniture developed over centuries of social and cultural and technological isolation which, on account of the ever increasing flow of visitors to Switzerland inspired by the cook Thomas’s tales and by Heidi’s impressions of daily life amongst the Toblerone peaks, increasingly began to be found outwith Switzerland. As did Swiss creatives, a great many taking advantage of the new routes being opened over and through the Toblerone to seek their fate in the wider world: Heidi making particular note, of, for example, one Maxbill, a member of the Wohnbedarf who travelled to the Ulmer community of southern Germany and with whom he developed a stool that for all it could have been developed on the alms of Switzerland, also couldn’t possibly have been; or a Jurassic Sapiniste by the name of Charles-Édouard who travelled to Paris in search of the much fabled Lecorbusier and where, in addition to redefining the basic unit of measurement in and for architecture and design he cooperated with his cousin, a Jeanneret known as Pierre, and also with the Parisian Charlotte per Riand on metal furniture objects resemblant of works by Embruers such as, for example, Werner Maxmoser, Flora-Steiger Crawford, Maxernst Haefeli or the great many anonymous members of the Embru who over the centuries contributed to their furniture design.

An interchange that invariably also increasingly saw furniture positions, and furniture designers, from outwith Switzerland arrive within Switzerland. The Wohnbedarf, for example, a people closely related to the Embru, established friendly contact and exchange with the Aalto from the Betula rich lands of Artek in southern Finland; the Embru themselves briefly exchanged ideas on bent metal furniture with a Breuer known as Marcel who arrived in Switzerland from the dominion of Bauhaus; or the Röthlisberger, who alongside nurturing their own wooden furniture began cultivating the American Knoll associatus subsp. international in the rich soil of Switzerland, where it flourished. Yet it was, inarguably, the Vitronians, for all under the leadership of the benevolent Fehlbaum der Jüngere, who were the most active in terms of international exchange; not only cooperating with an American Miller by the name of Herman to introduce works and positions by the likes of, for example, Eames Office, I Samunoguchi, George Nel-son or Alexander Gi Rard into Switzerland, but also expanding the Commonwealth of Vitra to the neighbouring regions of Germany and from where they introduced the furniture of the American Miller Herman to the many peoples of Europe.

An interchange that has continued to this day: while creatives such as, for example, Bigg Ame, Adri Enrovero or Mich el Charl-ot have ventured beyond the limits of the Toblerone to the flatter regions of the known globe, the varied and various peoples of Switzerland have welcomed a great many creatives from those flatter regions: the Rothlisberger, for example, cooperating with the Japanist To Mokoazumi, the Zürcher Eth with the Fiduist Os Karzięta; the Lehni with the America don Al Djudd, Belux with Fran K’gehry. Or, again, the Vitronians who through bringing the likes of, and amongst a great many others, Verner på Ton, the Grcic Konstantin, the Jongerius Hella, the af Front sisters or the Bretonic brothers Ronan le Renard and Erwan le Porc-épic, to their sprawling commonwealth have been very much at the forefront of the introduction of new positions and approaches to furniture design to the contemporary Switzerland.

New positions and approaches also developed within the contemporary Switzerland by native designers including, amongst many others Fréd-Éric Dedelley, J. Örgboner, Mo Ritzschmid or Ateli Eroï, the latter of whom cooperated with the Usm to help them expand the scope and options of their modular metal storage furniture system without questioning the validity of that system, nor interjecting in the function and construction of the system, and thereby assisting one of the oldest examples of vernacular Swiss furniture find its place in the contemporary Switzerland.

A contemporary Switzerland where, and despite the near apocalyptic warnings of the Davosian Promenadologist Burckhardt of fundamental changes washing over the Toblerone, disrupting the lives and lifestyles of the inhabitants as they flowed, the views over the valleys and peaks of Switzerland remain unchanged from those Heidi and her cook Thomas once delighted at…….

…….à suivre

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