Sōri Yanagi (柳宗理 1915–2011) was a Japanese product designer. He played a role in Japanese modern design developed after World War 2 to the high-growth period in the Japanese economy. He is both a representative of the wholly Japanese modern designer and a full-blown modernist who merged simplicity and practicality with elements of traditional Japanese crafts.
He was born in 1915 in Tokyo, Japan, as the son of Muneyoshi Yanagi, who founded the mingei movement which celebrated Japanese folk crafts and the beauty of everyday objects; moreover, he helped establish the Nihon Mingeikan, the Folk Crafts Museum of Japan. Sōri entered Tokyo Art School in 1934, where he studied both art and architecture. He was influenced by Le Corbusier as well as by Charlotte Perriand when she worked in Japan in the early 1940s. So, his interests moved from painting to buildings to design and objects.
After World War II, he designed many products: furniture, three-wheeled vehicles, Olympic cauldrons, pedestrian overpasses, etc. One of the most famous pieces of furniture is his Butterfly Stool. Announced in 1956, its 2-piece form has been compared to a butterfly's open wings. Alternately, the shape can be seen as the gateway of a Shinto shrine or even an antique samurai helmet. In effect, it is a form that is both modern and timeless, that has won critical acclaim and prizes, and is included in major collections such as the Museum of Modern Art New York and the Ruble Museum.
Most of Yanagi's designs are very simple and beautiful. His products illustrate his thinking: true beauty is not made, it is born naturally. When he created a new product, he made the first versions over and over by hand, seeking new forms that took shape from both new and old ideas..
Sōri Yanagi died at the age of 96 in 2011.
- Butterfly Stool, 1954
- Elephant Stool, 1954
- Honorary Royal Designer for Industry (UK), 2008
- AP obituary via the Philadelphia Inquirer of December 27, 2011
- Japanese Design by The Museum of Modern Art, pg 23
- 'Made in Japan' (Without the Inferiority Complex) by RITA REIF, Published in The New York Times on October 9, 1994
- Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), Sori Yanagi; retrieved 2012-5-27.
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