The Art of Ikebana in the Sogetsu School


Recently, Rios Clementi Hale Studios hosted Ravi GuneWardena for a presentation on the Sogetsu School of Ikebana. Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement, is a disciplined art form that views the arrangement as a living thing that unites nature and humanity.

Our studio was introduced to the basic tenets of Ikebana as a traditional and historical practice within Japanese culture, elucidating the unique approach offered by practitioners of the Sogetsu School. Ravi highlighted the overlaps between art and architecture within the Sogetsu School, emphasizing the special influence the school has had under each leader.

The techniques of process for assembling individual arrangements were of particular interest. Questions arose about material selection, the formal rules behind technique, and the performative aspects of Sogetsu. It was most surprising to learn that the school produces live performances similar to theater—incorporating sound and light to create an immersive environment.


Sogetsu is one of the most modern schools of ikebana, established in 1927 in Japan by Sofu Teshigahara, now with practitioners world-wide. While ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging, dates back several centuries, the Sogetsu School recognizes ikebana as a contemporary art form embracing the changes of our times. Among notable artists who have been collaborators at the school are Niki de Saint Phalle, Sam Francis, John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, Yoko Ono, and Isamu Noguchi.
— Ravi GuneWardena


Like the 70s performances of Yoko Ono and John Cage that took place in the Kenzo Tange designed Sogetsu school building, these theatrical events expand the art of Ikebana to include live narrative. For the studio it was enlivening to see how separate disciplines combined under Sogetsu to provide an alternative practice that was both expansive and precise.  


Designer Dami Olufowoshe was initially interested in the workshop for the opportunity to compose and take home a plant arrangement, but also found something incredibly cathartic about taking the time to place, trim, adjust and reposition the distinct elements that illicit the upright style of Ikebana. This style places emphasis on three main stems known as the Shin, Soe and the Hikae / Tal. Each stem has distinct characteristics and for placement with specific angles to denote hierarchy:


The analog techniques used to compose the arrangement are similar in process to the digital techniques used to conceive an architectural solution in that establishing a hierarchy of parts early on is integral to the harmonious deployment of any strategy.

When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.
— Unknown

While the finished product may look incredibly clean and refined, behind its creation there was an iterative non-linear process of evaluation and re-evaluation, with each decision informing the final composition. Ultimately when either the analog Ikebana or the digital design processes are done right, the resulting product takes on a natural form; one that integrates into its context and appears to have been there from the beginning.



Ravi GuneWardena is a principal at the firm Escher GuneWardena Architecture, along with partner Frank Escher. Their work, the subject of the exhibition CLOCKS AND CLOUDS, showing at the AD&A Museum at UC Santa Barbara (from July 7 through August 20, 2017), has been published and shown internationally. A larger Ikebana work by GuneWardena, Cloud III, has been installed in the entrance gallery at AD&A for the exhibition. Ravi has previously presented ikebana demonstrations at the MAK Center (2012), the Hammer Museum (2013), and deLAB – Design East of La Brea (2013), and curated ikebana exhibitions at the MAK Center for Art and Architecture at the Schindler House (Flowers for Pauline, 2012) and at the Neutra VDL House (2015).”


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