sori yanagi : obituary by jasper morrison
 
sori yanagi : obituary by jasper morrison sori yanagi : obituary by jasper morrison
jan 08, 2012

sori yanagi : obituary by jasper morrison

jasper morrison has sent us a tribute to sori yanagi, a key figure in the reconciliation among craft and industry who died on dec. 25, 2011. over the course of a career that spanned more than 60 years, yanagi created a vast array of industrial objects for a quotidian use with an emphasis on simplicity, practicality and natural beauty.

sori yanagi

‘sori yanagi, the japanese designer famous for his butterfly stool, made from two identical plywood mouldings, has died in tokyo aged 96. his career spanned a period which saw the birth of post war japan’s industrialisation and it’s relatively recent surrender to korea and china as factory floors for the world’s electronic goods.

yanagi was born in tokyo in 1915 and grew up in the Japanese equivalent of an arts and crafts house across the street from the mingei kan (japanese crafts museum) which his father soetsu established together with the ceramicists shoji hamada and kanjiro kawai. their understanding of korean and japanese folk art was based on an intuitive appreciation of the beauty of things made unselfconsciously, and the discussions which their discoveries provoked, led to a cultural awakening in pre-war japan which had long been absent.

sori yanagi’s butterfly stool

the inadequacy of industrial production and the importance and superiority of objects made by hand for unpretencious everyday purposes was a constant theme of his father’s essays and looking at the hundreds of everyday objects which resulted from yanagi’s six decade design career, from manhole covers to tea cups and drinking water fountains, it seems the message was well received, each one of them having about it all the spirit an object needs to overcome the orphan-like disadvantages of an industrial birth.

his students days were marked by the teaching of charlotte perriand, the french designer responsible for most of the furniture attributed to le corbusier, who travelled to japan in the 1940’s on a government grant with a mission to inspire young Japanese designers. in 1957 he travelled to milan, then in its hey day as the design capital of the world, for the 11th milan triennale where he exhibited his butterfly stool. back in tokyo his design office finally settled in the studio where he was to continue working for the last 4 decades of his career.

sori yanagi’s salad bowl with combined strainer

I was lucky enough to visit sori yanagi’s studio, a half submerged day-lit cube in a modernist building of the 1970’s. the room was no bigger than 40 square metres, and manouvreability limited to narrow passages between islands of models, books and industrial samples. at the time, assistants were busy modelling saucepan handles, while I took in the atmosphere. it was evident that for sori yanagi a design needed to be modelled, in the original sense of the word, before it could be drawn up for production.

in recent years his kitchenware designs have attracted something of a cult following, appreciated for there usefulness as much as their beauty. it seems probable that sori yanagi spent his life trying to invent a future for his father’s appreciation of things, reconciling the two worlds of craft and industry by adapting the benefits of the handmade with the advantages of industrial production, with a mind and an eye trained from an early age to know how to do it.

his recent decline in health combined with a certain lack of attention from europe’s design media and institutions, denied the west the retrospective exhibition and magazine coverage he deserved. though he rarely made public appearances in later years, in 2006 he attended an exhibition curated by naoto fukasawa and myself called ‘super normal’, which featured a number of his pieces.

wandering among the exhibits he stopped to appreciate some of them, finally settling on a salad bowl with combined strainer that he had designed several years earlier ‘it’s beautiful, who did it?’ he asked with a slight smile and twinkling eyes.’

jasper morrison

video (japanese only) shows sori yanaghi at a small retrospective exhibition in tokyo dedicated to his work

    have something to add? share your thoughts in our comments section below.
    all comments are reviewed for the purposes of moderation before publishing.

    comments policy
    LOG IN
    designboom's comment policy guidelines
    generally speaking, if we publish something, it's because we're genuinely interested in the subject. we hope you'll share this interest and if you know even more about it, please share! our goal in the discussion threads is to have good conversation and we prefer constructive opinions. we and our readers have fun with entertaining ones. designboom welcomes alerts about typos, incorrect names, and the like.
    the correction is at the discretion of the post editor and may not happen immediately.

    what if you disagree with what we or another commenter has to say?
    let's hear it! but please understand that offensive, inappropriate, or just plain annoying comments may be deleted or shortened.

    - please do not make racist, sexist, anti-semitic, homophobic or otherwise offensive comments.
    - please don't personally insult the writers or your fellow commenters.
    - please avoid using offensive words, replacing a few letters with asterisks is not a valid workaround.
    - please don't include your website or e-mail address in your comments for the purpose of self-promotion.
    - please respect jury verdicts and do not discuss offensively on the competition results
    (there is only one fist prize, and designboom usually asks renown professionals to help us to promote talent.
    in addition to the awarded designs, we do feel that almost all deserve our attention, that is why we publish
    the best 100-200 entries too.)

    a link is allowed in comments as long as they add value in the form of information, images, humor, etc. (links to the front page of your personal blog or website are not okay). unwelcome links (to commercial products or services of others, offensive material etc. ) will be redacted. and, ... yes, spam gets banned. no, we do not post fake comments.

    PRODUCT LIBRARY

    a diverse digital database that acts as a valuable guide in gaining insight and information about a product directly from the manufacturer, and serves as a rich reference point in developing a project or scheme.

    design news

    ×
    keep up with our daily and weekly stories
    491,071 subscribers
    - see sample
    - see sample