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Isamu Kenmochi


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One of the most significant figures in the emergence of Japanese industrial design after the Second World War, Kenmochi graduated in 1932 from the Tokyo College of Industrial Arts. Like many of the first generation of Japanese industrial designers he was also a member of the Industrial Arts Institute (IAI) where he worked in the Woodwork Technology Department. At the IAI he worked alongside design pioneers such as Jiro Kosugi and Mosuke Yoshitake and was influenced by European Modernist designers such as Bruno Taut, an adviser to the Institute in late 1933 and early 1934. Having been transferred from the IAI to the Ministry of Armaments, his knowledge of materials was extended by his research into the ways in which woods could be used in aircraft construction.

After the Second World War Kenmochi made a study tour of the USA in 1952, reporting back on his experiences in the influential periodical Kogei Nyusu (Industrial Art News). In 1952 he also became a founding member of the Japan Industrial Designers Association. Kenmochi's links with the international design community were further enhanced through his attendance at the Aspen International Design Conference of 1953. In the the same year, together with other leading designers of the post‐Second World War years such as Masaru Katsumie, Yusaku Kamekura, Riki Watanabe, and Sori Yanagi, he was also involved in the formation of the International Design Committee. The latter subsequently became the Good Design Committee (1959), then the Japan Design Committee (1963) and sought to foster relationships with overseas design organizations as well as participation in conferences and exhibitions. For the IAI Design and Technology exhibition of 1954 Kenmochi designed a wood and bamboo dining‐chair that, like many other progressive pieces by contemporaries such as Yanagi and Watanabe, combined traditional materials with new technologies and aesthetic ideas. He took this philosophy forward in a 1958 commission from the Yamakawa Rattan Company to produce an organic, almost sculptural, chair. Reflecting a growing international awareness of Japanese design originality, this important icon of contemporary Japanese furniture was purchased for the design collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1964 and was awarded the G‐Mark in 1966. Furthermore, having first gone into production in 1960 it was awarded the G‐Mark Long Life prize in 1982. A further essay in sculptural form in furniture was executed for the Tendo Mokko Company in 1961. The resultant Kashiwado Chair was named after a famous sumo wrestler and was formed of blocks of lacquered Japanese cedar. He had, in fact, left the IAI in 1955 to establish his own design consultancy, Kenmochi Design Associates where, in the early years he continued to work on furniture and interior design. The award of a Mainichi Prize for industrial design evidenced the continuing significance of furniture design to the company in 1963. Important commissions included the Japanese Pavilion at Expo '58 in Brussels on which the firm collaborated with the architect Kunio Maekawa, winning a Gold Medal, and street furniture for Expo '70 in Osaka, awarded a second Mainichi Prize.


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