Isamu Noguchi was born in Los Angeles in 1904 to Japanese poet Yonejiro Noguchi and American writer Leonie Gilmour.

His father returned to Japan before the birth and mother and son arrived in Tokyo two years later.

Although his parents’ relationship failed, Noguchi and his mother stayed in Japan for 12 years until the adolescent Noguchi was sent to a school in Indiana, USA. He studied medicine at Columbia University, New York, before dropping out.

After studying sculpture in New York, Noguchi won a Guggenheim Fellowship and went to Paris in 1927, where he assisted sculptor Constantin Brancusi.

Returning to Japan in 1931, he discovered the simplicity of ancient Buddhist rock gardens. This aesthetic left a life-long mark on Noguchi, influencing later garden projects such as 1956’s UNESCO site in Paris.

In 1935, Noguchi began a 30-year collaboration designing sets for choreographer Martha Graham. He also periodically designed products such as the Zenith ‘Radio Nurse’ intercom in 1937, and furniture and lighting for Herman Miller and Knoll from 1944 until 1954.


After the Japanese city of Gifu asked Noguchi to help revive its troubled paper lantern industry in 1951, he spent many decades designing lights made using traditional lantern techniques.

From the 1960s through to the 1980s, his main focus was on garden design and sculpture.

The Noguchi Museum opened in 1985 in New York, three years before his death in 1988, and is an amazing showcase of these two artistic directions.

Fast facts


Noguchi was predominantly a sculptor, but his understanding of three-dimensional spaces enabled him to cross traditional design boundaries, and work in product, furniture and set design.

His style involved the use of positive and negative space. Noguchi created understated designs that had a powerful force, whether it was a piece of furniture or a giant sculpture, such as 1936’s History Mexico relief mural in Mexico City. His public sculptures and fountains often had a strong geometric element and were usually made from metal, but still involved the same use of interlocking solids and voids.

Best known for

Made from two interlocking timber pieces, his 1944 coffee table is commonly known as the Noguchi table (pictured), while his Akari range of lamps are still a favourite source for sculptural ambient light.

Apart from the Paris UNESCO site, Noguchi’s famous landscaping works include the IBM headquarters in New York (1964). The diversity of his sculptural work is represented by the refined News metal relief at Associated Press, New York (1938), and the Red Cube at? Marine Midland Bank, New York (1968).

More japanese design:

* Japanese design
* Sori Yanagi – Japanese Design
* Keiko Matsui – Japanese ceramist

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