...be, for example, with his Elephant Stool by Sori Yanagi...
The Elephant Stool from 1954 was not the first stool the Japanese designer Sori Yanagi designed. In the same year he had already presented the Butterfly Stool, which, as the name implies, also has an animal form, but was crafted from moulded plywood - a technique that Sori Yanagi potentially became aware of through Charles and Ray Eames. The Butterfly Stool reminds formally to the wings of a butterfly, and, and just as the Elephant Stool indicates Sori Yanagi's preference for organic forms and industrial design. The Elephant Stool but was originally made of glass fibre reinforced polyester resin, at its time a revolutionary material and ultimately made the production of the stool in one piece with its charismatic figure possible. Three legged the small Elephant Stool is stable and solid, despite, or perhaps because, the feet are not arranged in an equilateral triangle. Especially from the side, therefore, it can be seen as either a short, powerful elephant leg or even a stylized elephant head with curved trunk.
Sori Yanagi was born in Tokyo in 1915. A creative mind from an early age, at 18 he enrolled at the Academy of Art Tokyo before moving on to work in numerous architecture and design studios; a particularly important and influential moment coming when he served as an assistant to Charlotte Perriand. In the 1950s Sori Yanagi founded the Yanagi Industrial Design Institute and this period corresponded to his most productive design phase and saw the creation of both his famous Butterfly Stool and Elephant Stool. Here Sori Yanagi was known for the individual way he united western production techniques and materials with the artisan tradition of Japan and Far Eastern aesthetics. This made him one of the most important Japanese postwar designers and saw him honoured with numerous awards and exhibitions. Although Sori Yanagi focused primarily on furniture, especially seating, his portfolio also includes lamps, cutlery and larger projects such as subway stations, cars and motorcycles. His work was not confined to Japan; for example he spent two semesters as a guest lecturer at the Kunsthochschule Kassel before becoming director of the Japanese Folk Art Museum in Tokyo. Sori Yanagi died in Tokyo in 2011.
In the 1950s plastic was still a revolutionary material and although designers and manufacturers were unfamiliar with it they appreciated the great potential of its high flexibility and low-cost manufacturing. Previously designs with curved organic shapes were realized in and with moulded plywood, however the sophisticated technology of wood deformation under steam was time-consuming and relatively expensive. In addition, the natural occurring, and thus uncontrollable, specifications of the timber regularly posed problems in context of the production of furniture. Especially if you wanted to create an object from one piece. The Vitra Elephant Stool thus demonstrates clearly the advantages of its material, and today it is made of coloured polypropylene, which is stable yet flexible. The plastic is environmentally friendly, easy to colour and resistant to chemicals and weathering: the latter is achieved by the addition of special additives that slow down the fading under ultraviolet radiation; should however the Vitra stool be exposed over a longer period to direct sunlight, bright colours can easily fade. Nevertheless, this lightweight and versatile material is ideal for outdoor use, and the Elephant Stool cuts a great figure in the garden or as a transportable picnic utensil.
The most important creative period in Sori Yanagi's life came in the mid-20th century, a period which also coincided with numerous important political, economic and cultural crises and upheavals. The 1950s meant on one hand a newly burgeoning prosperity and reconstruction after the exhausting years of World War II, especially in Europe. On the other hand it was a period of increasing conflict between Eastern and Western powers and the Cold War. And in which context Asia was also a major focus of international attention. Not that the period was only crises, but was also a period of growing cultural exchange and fusion of different styles. Removed from the rigid, traditional forms and materials and moving on to organic and more abstract designs - the most famous example is probably the typical kidney-shaped table, which was found in almost any living room. The curved shapes called for new, more flexible materials and the increased use of plastic is also reflected in Sori Yanagi's Elephant Stool, which is a classic representative of its time in design and manufacture.
Based in Birsfelden near Basel Vitra can look back on a successful company history. Its roots lie in a small shop fitting business that Willi Fehlbaum took over in the 30s, and from which, and together with his wife, they continually developed new products and markets. On a trip to the USA the Fehlbaums came by chance across the designs of Charles and Ray Eames and managed to secure the European rights from the American manufacturer by Herman Miller. This cooperation laid the base for Vitra's success, and the designs of the Eames remain among the best-selling Vitra products. Vitras philosophy is to unite the finest engineering skills with contemporary creativity to deliver durable and high quality products. This includes Sori Yanagi's Elephant Stool, an object which was originally produced by the Japanese company Tendo Mokko and today is one of the powerful designs of the Vitra range and one which enriches spaces both inside and out, commercial and domestic.
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