USM's Rethink the Modular exhibition aims to "give a new perspective on modularity"

Milan 2015: in this movie, USM CEO Alexander Schärer introduces the student installations at a Milan exhibition marking the 50th anniversary of the Swiss brand's Haller modular furniture system.

USM's Rethink the Modular exhibition

Called Rethink the Modular, the exhibition took place 50 years after USM's signature Haller modular shelving system, which was developed by Swiss architect Fritz Haller and engineer Paul Schärer in 1963, was first launched.

USM's Rethink the Modular exhibition
USM's Haller modular furniture system

"A lot of companies look backwards when they turn 50," explains USM CEO Alexander Schärer in the movie, which was produced by Dezeen for USM. "We didn't want to do that; we wanted to look into the future.”"

USM's Rethink the Modular exhibition

The exhibition, which was co-curated by Burkhard Meltzer and Tido von Oppeln, explored the concept of modularity through a variety of historical exhibits, as well as seven specially commissioned installations by students from seven different universities.

USM's Rethink the Modular exhibition

"The exhibition is all about giving a new perspective on modularity," Meltzer says. "We wanted to open up the discussion in the future what modularity might mean in the next years."

He adds: "The interesting thing about modularity is there is always this tension between the interest in structures and rules and the interest in having as much freedom as possible. We wanted to show the whole range of this discussion between the two poles."

USM's Rethink the Modular exhibition
Workshop at Domaine de Boisbuchet in France

The installations, which resulted from a series of workshops held last year at Domaine de Boisbuchet in France, ranged from abstract representations of modularity to more realistic proposals for modular building systems.

USM's Rethink the Modular exhibition

Swiss designer Dimitri Bähler led a group of former ECAL students to create a kinetic installation consisting of several interactive mobiles.

"To wake up the machine you just have to blow on the small windmill," Bähler explains. "The more you blow the more you will trigger the machine."

USM's Rethink the Modular exhibition

"We worked with Arduinos, which use the same coding as computers with 1 and 0. That relates to the concept of modularity: you just use two different units and when you put them together in a different order it gives always a different output."

USM's Rethink the Modular exhibition

Architect Lorenzo Bini worked with students from the Polytechnic University of Milan to create a large suspended arch based on mathematical proportions found in nature.

USM's Rethink the Modular exhibition

"We were inspired by trees because they are modular organisms and they grow and develop according to specific geometrical and mathematical proportions," Bini explains. "By assembling different modules in different proportions, what you get in the end is a very precise curve, which is almost like a gothic arch."

USM's Rethink the Modular exhibition

Structural engineer Wolf Mangelsdorf took a more practical approach to modularity, working with students from the Architectural Association School of Architecture to create a modular system to build multi-storey residential buildings quickly and cheaply.

"I took my students to Boisbuchet with an agenda to rethink modular on a bigger scale, on a building scale," Mangelsdorf says. "What you see here at the exhibition is a kit of parts and a drawing that shows how the bits go together. We also developed a parametric design tool that allows you to maximise the flexibility in your design."

USM's Rethink the Modular exhibition

Mangelsdorf, who is director at engineering firm BuroHappold, believes he and his students have developed a practical solution for modular building and plans to continue developing the system.

"I think we've actually got a valid approach to modular building," he says. "I intend to take this further, because I see that there is a need for a system that can build multi-storey, inner-city residential buildings in an economical and fast way."

USM's Rethink the Modular exhibition

This movie was produced by Dezeen for USM. It was filmed in Milan at USM's Rethink the Modular exhibition in Milan. The exhibition is currently on show at USM's London showroom at 49-50 Central Street during Clerkenwell Design Week.

The music featured is by 800xL.