The Historia Supellexalis: “U” for USM Haller

The Historia Supellexalis U for USM Haller


USM Haller

A Fritz; A Ball; A System

Within the diaries of Heidi, those central documents in the re-telling of the earliest (hi)story of the contemporary Switzerland, it is recorded that one of the oldest examples of vernacular Swiss furniture is the modular metal storage system of the Usm.

As Heidi explains, over a great many generations the Usm were primarily developers and builders of windows, specifically metal windows for which they employed the abundant brass to be found in the Toblerone cordillera. Brass windows which, as the many and varied peoples of the contemporary Switzerland began to move from their own valleys, began to communicate with those in neighbouring valleys, and thereby initiate the development of the cantonation that defines contemporary Switzerland, were increasingly employed outwith the Usm’s native Mün valley. An increasing demand for the Usm’s windows which forced the Usm to build a bigger production facility than they had needed when simply developing windows for themselves.

A project which, as can be read in one of the longer entries of Heidi’s diaries, they entrusted to a member of the Usm by the name of Fritz, a young man who rather than following the profession of the Windowsmith was a Haller, a builder of traditional Swiss Hallen, essentially large multi-purpose buildings, that had long since been constructed from steel rather than brass; and a Haller who had devised a singular Hallen design concept that allowed him to effortlessly create Hallen at three different scales, mini, midi, maxi in the dialect of the Usm, and which can be roughly translated as small, medium and large. A system which allowed any given Hallen to be increased/decreased in size, within the context of the tripartite system, at any given point in time. A genuine revolution in the (hi)story of Hallen, and in the profession of the Haller who until then had built static, immobile, unresponsive Hallen. And often highly decorative and ornamental in comparison to the Haller Fritz’s sober, reserved Hallen.

As Heidi records, the Usm decided on two of Fritz’s Hallen: a maxi for the production of the windows and a midi by way of an administrative base, both of which Fritz constructed on an area of the Mün valley scorched by the Usm to clear it of vegetation. However as they began to produce the increasing number of requests for their brass windows the Usm realised they had no options for storing the increasing amount of paperwork that was now required but which no-one had foreseen as it had never before been an issue.

As the problem became more acute the Usm Haller Fritz suggested he develop a fourth version of his Hallen system at a much smaller level than the mini and which could then be used to house the many documents currently piled on the floor of the Usm midi Hallen. For, so the argument, what is Hallen if not a space in which to keep things safe, secure and ordered.

And the Usm were delighted with the Haller Fritz’s proposal. And even more delighted with his solution for rather than simply reducing his steel Hallen concept he abstracted it, intimated his Hallen concept rather than copying it, and redefined the construction placing at its core a small ball formed from brass to which steel tubes could be attached to create a framework to be filled in with panels in steel or glass, without hiding the steel skeleton. While his integration of a small brass ball at the heart of the construction principle, as the fixed pivot around which everything revolved, meant the his new storage objects could not only be increased and decreased in size as with his Hallen, but could be reconfigured and re-modified vertically and horizontally, thereby allowing a truly flexible, responsive storage system. A metal storage system that became even more flexible and responsive through the addition of drawer mechanisms. A metal storage system which was intrinsically modular.

A modular metal storage system that found great reception throughout the valleys of the Toblerone cordillera, including by Heidi who describes in great detail, and with a great many sketches, how she furnished her mountain hut with a variety of objects created using the Usm Haller Fritz’s system. And how through use she, as with all the peoples of Switzerland, discovered that the Usm Haller Fritz’s furniture system was not only suitable for storing papers and pens and scissors but that all manner of objects could be safely, securely ordered within, Heidi making note at various points in her diaries of her use of her Usm system to house, for example, clothing, records, rocks, fish, alphorns and the mixture of nuts and cereals that formed the traditional breakfast of the Swiss peoples, and of which she had become such a devotee. And also books, including her famous, and so important, diaries.

And a versatile, responsive, steel and brass modular storage system that, as Heidi details, greatly excited the earliest travellers to the valleys of the contemporary Switzerland, many of who were most keen to take the Usm’s objects back to their homelands. The problem was when they asked the price of the Haller Fritz’s furniture system the Usm had no answer, for, as with all peoples of Switzerland, the Usm have and had but only little interest in financial matters; however, as the first external customer insisted on paying a deal was struck that he could take a quantity of materials equivalent in weight to that of the beetle he would give the Usm, specifically a magnificent and highly prised example of the Volkswa gen beetle species. A deal with which everyone was happy, even if the Usm were unsure what to do with a non-native beetle species, magnificent as it was. As they were unsure what to do with the many other examples of Volkswa gen received from further customers by way of payment for their Usm storage system; and which for want of an answer were released into the valleys of the Toblerone cordillera. Which is the reason why today so many Volkswa gen beetles can be found on the mountain passes of Switzerland.

Orders from outwith the borders of the contemporary Switzerland which continued to flow, unabaited; and thus one day the Usm decided to give up their development of windows, a business that in any case had been struggling since the Californian Mike Rosoft had brought his novel Vista system to Switzerland, and to concentrate on the production of the Haller Fritz’s metal furniture system.

And although of late a tribe of Nürnberger have sought to question the validity of the narrative of the Usm Haller Fritz’s development of modular metal furniture system as recorded and detailed in Heidi’s diaries, more enlightened sages have convincingly argued that the Nürnberger’s argument is essentially one based on commercial considerations, on a desire to nullify a patent issued by the Ancient Order of Monopoly in order to enable them to take a share of a perceived market, much as in centuries past the Kohn community of Vienna invested enormous energies arguing at every available opportunity that the Boppard Thonet Michael’s patent on steam bent wood furniture was utter nonsense, thus helping further underscore the important role patents play in the furniture retailing industry. And also helping underscore the dangers of the cursed objectification, that focusing on the physical form of an object of furniture rather than that which is inherent in the work, and which is so toxic to the necessary development of furniture: there being nothing, so the more enlightened sages argue, stopping the Nürnberger from developing their own furniture, from making their own contribution to the development of furniture design based on their response to prevailing cultural, technological, ecological, environmental, et al realities much as the Usm Haller Fritz developed his in context of the prevailing realities, in context of the wider architectural and artistic moments and positions of that period, as a site specific solution.

Thus an attempt to retell Heidi’s diaries that in its commercial and formalistic focus in no sense undermines the joy of that which the Usm Haller Fritz gave not only the Usm of the Mün valley all those centuries hence. But gave all.

A joy the Usm Haller Fritz continues to give. For while over the centuries since that original system the Usm have, and again in contrast to the Nürnberger, further developed the Haller Fritz’s design through, for example, the addition of lighting or enabling the integration of plants, developments very much in context of not only contemporary realities but of the freedom the Haller Fritz bequeathed his system, the Usm have continued to produce their modular metal system according to the Haller Fritz’s original proposition, using his original measurements and scales, and always will…….

…….à suivre

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