Riki Watanabe



Riki Watanabe (渡辺力) is a Japanese designer: as a creator, teacher, author, and active member of Japan’s leading design organizations, he is a strong advocate of industrial design. 

Spreading Japanese design around the world

He graduated from the Industrial Arts Institute (IAI) in Tokyo and joined their staff in 1936. He founded his own company in 1949, one of the first independent Japanese agencies, renamed “Q Designers” in 1955. He played a leading role in the knowledge diffusion on several levels. In 1940, he began a long career as a professor at the Tokyo University of Art and Design where he taught interior design until his retirement in 1970. He was also the author of numerous articles through which he introduced the American and European designers he knew well.
Indeed, his trip to the United States in 1956 has a deep impact on him: like Isamu Kenmochi (1912-1971) a few years earlier, he studied American design practices there. Nevertheless, he was completely struck by their love for Japanese design on the other side of the Atlantic, as well as for Scandinavian design, both very fashionable. Upon his return, he decided to promote Japanese design and was one of the founding members of the Japanese Association of Industrial Designers in 1952. 

A design between tradition and modernity

His design combines traditional Japanese markers and modern codes. His rope chair, created in 1952, is a perfect example and his first great success: presented at the H55 exhibition in Helsingborg (Sweden) in 1955, beside works by Isamu Kenmochi and Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988), this seating is both simple and functional.
His “Torii” chair in rattan (1956) won the gold medal at the 1957 Milan Triennial.
His bench inspired by the curvilinear roofs of Shinto temples, initially used  for public spaces such as the Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, highlights the Japanese taste for natural materials. 

As the winner of the prestigious Mainichi Prize for Industrial Design in 1967 for his cardboard toys, Riki Watanabe is a prolific designer. From his clocks for Seiko Corporation in 1980 to the interior design of the new Prince Hotel building in Karuizawa in 1982, his goal is always the same: underlining the importance of social impact of design. Awarded the Medal of Honor in 1976 and the Order of the Rising Sun in 1984 for his contribution to industrial design, he is one of the most important Japanese designers of his generation. 

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