Salone del Mobile attracts throngs of architects, specifiers and consumers every year because the exhibitors at this famed Milan furniture fair consistently astonish with spectacular new product launches and reissues of classic designs. When all tallied, more than 300,000 people will have attended this year’s design juggernaut. And to welcome the larger-than-ever attendance, one exhibitor devised a new category of surprise: USM reinvented its iconic modular furniture system USM Haller by seamlessly integrating it with LED light.
The Swiss manufacturer did not take its charge, known as USM Haller E, lightly. The company’s head of product development Thomas Dienes says discussion about the system dates back seven years when he stepped into the role from another leadership position within the company. USM was not responding to a concrete request from salespeople, Dienes says. Rather, “LED and OLED technology had entered the marketplace, and we pursued how light integration could add more functionality to furniture. Yet it raised a lot of question marks.”
The first question was purely technical: How do we electrify interchangeable, reconfigurable shelves and drawers? Swiss architect Fritz Haller began devising USM Haller steel-framed construction in 1961 for the manufacturer’s then-new headquarters in Münsingen, Switzerland. The market-ready version that rolled out in 1965 achieves Haller’s vision via chrome-plated steel tubes joined by patented ball connectors.
USM Haller E leverages these structural parts, in turn. Thanks to refinements of the ball, connector and tube, power flows inside the furniture sans cables. These are now e-Balls, e-Connectors and e-Tubes that conduct low-voltage electricity to predefined recesses where e-USB chargers, e-Light sources and e-Dummy covers snap in with minimal visual intrusion. The entire system pulls ground-level electricity via a power supply cable attached to an e-Ball, and the power adapter is installed underneath so that only the operating switch is visible.
What’s more, Dienes notes, the solution does not require reeducating end users. “Cables would have changed the assembly process and thus destroyed the idea of modularity. Integrated electrification does not impact assembly.” The technique also promises a certain durability of the electrical infrastructure so that it lasts as long as the steel itself. Indeed, consumers hold onto their USM Haller systems for decades, and the secondary market for the product collection is lively.
Integration of another sort has been on Dienes’s mind. “Another one of the big question marks is how to blend this entirely new function with the product that people have known for more than 50 years. When working with furniture that’s essential, you have to have utmost respect for history.” Dienes himself studied under Haller at the Department of Architecture at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and believes his mentor would have used 21st-century tools to create USM Haller E similarly. “He was very interested in new technologies but also extremely focused on modularity.”
USM Haller E not only responds to new technologies, but also social phenomena. Our aging population demands more illumination to navigate various environments, for example, and many buildings nowadays rely on natural and task lighting instead of unscrupulously flooding it from overhead. “Originally this system was developed for the office. But later on, designers began using its modularity in ways that were unexpected, such as in our fast-growing residential market,” says Dienes, who expects similar adoption patterns across building types here.
Several elements of USM Haller E even promote widespread use, such as its warm- and neutral-white LED lighting options. In addition, USM Haller E’s individual lamps can be rotated outward to shine on a wall or a curtain instead of a task at hand. “Maybe library or hospitality clients would use this capability to create atmosphere within their spaces.”
But Dienes isn’t just focusing on USM Haller E’s versatility today. He wonders how the system may be incorporated into IoT interfaces — a user turns on its lights before arrival or changes the color or white-color temperature of those lights to suit an event — and how his team may prepare it for the future more generally. “We see this idea as a starting point,” he says. Salone del Mobile attendees, how do you foresee using USM Haller E?
For more from USM, check out their website.