Video: Marc Asekhame, Zurich
Cut: Max Wuchner
Interview: Corine Gisel, common-interest, Basel
Unable to find a suitable lamp for their apartment, Rosmarie Baltensweiler and her husband Rico simply made one themselves in 1951. With its black-and-white shade, heavy metal base, slender chrome rods, and six axes of movement, they created a floor lamp that could be turned in all directions and adjusted to various contexts and uses: one day to flood the ceiling, another to read by.
The one-off soon grew into a limited series produced for friends, followed by an order from the furniture company Wohnbedarf, a write-up in the journal Bauen + Wohnen, and in 1954, a picture on the cover of the sales catalog of the Swiss Werkbund. It did not take long for the lamp — now officially known as "Type 600"— to attract the attention of the international interior design company Knoll and promptly became part of their product range. In 1956, Le Corbusier placed a Type 600 in his model apartment and a year later, Munich's design museum Die Neue Sammlung acquired the lamp for its permanent collection. The family's personal design had gone global.
Type 600's dazzling career led to the founding, 60 years ago, of the Baltensweiler family business. The lamps they designed benefited from the fer-tile blend of Rosmarie's experience as an interior architect and Rico's expertise as an electrical engineer. Her eye for space and form complemented his fascination with technology. Together they built an internationally successful business, while simultaneously raising four children. Their chalet in Ebikon, not far from Lucerne, was studio, workshop, and living quarters at once. When Rico Baltensweiler died unexpectedly in 1987, the couple's son Gabriel and daughter Karin took over important aspects of the family operations. Starting in 2013, Rosmarie Baltensweiler gradually retired from the business. Now, in 2019, the company produces and distributes 16 different series, among them a new edition of Type 600.
Design and production have always been close neighbors in this small enterprise. Speaking about the form of their lamps, Rosmarie Baltensweiler explains: "Our designs have always been guided by the desire to simplify." However, this was not just an aesthetic ideal. "It also depended on technical potential, on what we were actually able to produce." A reduction in form also had the advantage of reducing materials and streamlining production processes.
The worldwide political situation in the early 1970s proved to be one of the most important impulses for the small family business. The reports issued by the Club of Rome and the global oil crisis spotlighted questions of sustainability and efficient energy. In 1972, Rosmarie and Rico Baltensweiler responded by creating their Halo 250, for which they appropriated the automobile industry's development of energy-efficient halogen for home use. The Manhattan series was similarly motivated: launched in 1984, it upgraded the status of fluorescent lighting from industrial to domestic. Another innovation, the fluorescent compact lamp, led to the design of the floor lamp Aladin in 1987. Driven by Rosmarie Baltensweiler's pioneering work, the company successfully incorporated LED technology into their products in 2007.
Technology never intimidated Rosmarie Baltensweiler. In her designs, she always kept abreast of the latest technological advances while never losing sight of the highest priority: lighting. "We were fully aware of the disadvantages of fluorescent tubes," Rosmarie Baltensweiler recalls. "It's a hazy light, it does not come from a particular source and it has no direction. But we are used to sunlight. That's what we like. Not a foggy day." A lamp is always part of your living space regardless of whether it is in your own apartment or elsewhere in the world.