Over four generations, the Schärer family has built USM into a globally recognised brand, celebrated for its unique fusion of ingenuity, minimalism and flexibility.
November 13th, 2015
The story of USM is closely tied to the industrial development of Switzerland, and the evolving architecture (and politics) of 20th Century Europe. The superb elegance and functionality of its flagship ball connector marries a legacy of technical expertise with the Schärer family’s passion for design.
Riding the wave of continental Europe’s industrialisation at the end of the 19th Century, in 1885 Ulrich Schärer founded a small, family-run, metalworking firm. Pragmatically, he named it USM after his own initials, and that of Münsingen, the Swiss village just outside of Bern where he was born. From 1920 to 1961 Ulrich’s children managed the company, specialising in ornamental hinges for the construction industry and in machining sheet steel.
It was the third generation of the Schärer family, in the form of Paul Schärer, Jr. who would modernise USM, and, in collaboration with Swiss Architect Fritz Haller, create the ball connector system. Holding a degree in engineering from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich, Paul was passionate about architecture and design and a great admirer of Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier. Inspired by their functionalist principles, he was committed to creating a new type of flexible factory that could be adapted to various manufacturing processes, and thus engaged Haller, who perfected a modular, metal-framed construction system that coincided precisely with Paul’s vision. The new USM factory opened in 1965 in the countryside near Münsingen, and a few years later, Schärer commissioned Haller to design and build him a house, just a few metres from the factory. Raised on columns and named Buechli, the metal-and-glass house was completed in 1969 and still stands today.
The USM Haller system, available in Australia through ECC, remains unique and unparalleled in its field, as much in the quality of its manufacture as in its functionality. The ball connector is the keystone of this evolving, ultra-ingenious system, which has been copyrighted as a work of applied art since 1988. Containing 47 grams of chrome plated steel and six threaded holes into which six screws can be inserted, it has been nicknamed ‘the magic ball’ in Switzerland. It allows the furniture system to be extended upwards as well as sideways, almost infinitely, while ensuring it remains perfectly stable.
Although the unique USM Haller furniture system design has remained unchanged for 50 years, its sophistication has continually developed. Its quality is constantly improving to conform to the brand’s quality standards. This includes testing door hinges by opening and closing them 40,000 times without making the slightest noise.
Read the full story in Indesign Issue 63
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