The prolific industrial designer Sori (Munemichi) Yanagi died Dec 25 at the age of 96, it has been reported. Born in Tokyo, Yanagi was the son of the Mingei folk art movement founder and philosopher Soetsu (Muneyoshi) Yanagi. He studied oil painting at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts (current Tokyo University of the Arts), but inspired by Le Corbusier turned his ambitions to design. After graduating, he worked from 1940 to ’42 as an assistant to the French designer Charlotte Perriand, who had traveled to Japan in 1940 with the French Ministry for Trade and Industry, before returning to enter the architectural office of Junzo Sakakura.
In 1952, Yanagi’s electric phonograph, produced by Nippon Columbia, took first prize at the 1st New Japan Industrial Design Concours, organized by the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper. The following year, he established the Yanagi Industrial Design Institute. Made of two pieces of curved, moulded plywood fixed together along a single plane to resemble the wings of a butterfly, his iconic Butterfly Stool (1954) took the gold medal at the Triennale di Milano in 1957. In designs for diverse products ranging from a fast-boiling kettle to a tricar and benches for the Yokohama subway system, he was known for elegantly combining the pragmatic forms of modernism with Japanese artisanal traditions.
In 1981 he was recognized with Japan’s Purple Ribbon Medal of Honor for academic and artistic achievement, and in 2002 named a Person of Cultural Merit. In addition to his design activities, from 1977 he also served as director of Tokyo’s Japan Folk Crafts Museum, established by his father in 1936.