An influential figure in the emergence of Japanese industrial design in the post‐Second World War years, Watanabe played a key role in professional practice, education, and promotion. He was a member of staff on the government‐funded Industrial Arts Institute from 1936. From 1940 he also taught at the Tokyo College of Industrial Arts from which he had graduated some years earlier. After the Second World War he founded his own design studio in 1949, renamed Q Designers in 1955. An early design of significance was his Rope chair of 1952, a low‐cost item of furniture that struck a balance between Japanese traditions (low‐level seating and natural materials) and a contemporary aesthetic. He was also a founding member of the Japan Industrial Designers Association (JIDA) in 1952 and, with other pioneering contemporaries (including Masaru Katsumie, Isamu Kenmochi, Yusaku Kamekura, and Sori Yanagi) was also involved in the formation in 1953 of the International Design Committee. (This later became the Good Design Committee (1959) and then the Japan Design Committee (1963).) This body sought to encourage links with overseas design organizations alongside participation in conferences and exhibitions. An original, though unsuccessful, objective of the Committee had been to0 enable Japanese participation in the Milan Triennale of 1954. However, at the 1957 Triennale Watanabe was awarded a Gold Medal, showing his Torii stool. Manufactured by the Yamakawa Rattan Company, the stool (like his earlier Rope chair) reconciled traditional forms (from the torii entrance gates at Shinto shrines) and techniques with a contemporary aesthetic. In his bench made by Tendo Mokko in 1960s, Watanabe explored a similar design solution that drew on forms derived from Shinto architecture, the Japanese penchant for natural materials, and a crisp, undecorated appearance that was also visually in tune with the later manifestations of the International Style. In 1956 he had been one of thirteen Japanese designers invited by the International Cooperation Administration (affiliated to the US Department of Commerce) to study industrial design in the USA, visiting design consultancies, art and design colleges, and manufacturers over a two‐month period, including the General Motors Technical Center and a mock‐up by Walter Dorwin Teague Associates of the interior of a Boeing 707 airliner. In addition to his Gold Medal at the 1957 Milan Triennale, Watanabe was awarded the Mainichi Design Prize in 1967, the order of the Rising Sun in 1984, and the Kunii Industrial Art Award in 1992.
Subjects: Art & Architecture