Since the 1990s, an intrepid group of aquascaping artists have gradually raised the bar of what’s possible with the design of a traditional aquarium. Using only natural elements, the aquariums you see here are years in the making to ensure plants and animals all exist in harmony while trying to achieve merits on an exhaustive list of aesthetic criteria. Over 2,000 participants from 60+ countries submit designs for the annual International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest (IAPLC) and here are some of our favorites from this year.
Designer and founder of Misawa Design Institute, Haruka Misawa (previously), has designed a series of minimal aquariums titled “Waterscapes” that include 3D printed objects inspired by undersea plant life. These works mimic coral and other aquatic flora that small fish use as hiding places, yet are all manufactured digitally. The objects are ones that would normal topple or crumble because of their own weight, yet because of their underwater location are able to exist as buoyant additions to the aesthetically pleasing fish homes.
Within the series Misawa has also designed bubbles of air within the aquariums that allow plants to thrive at the center of her creations. These meta environments appear like miniature fish bowls within larger aquariums, with plants floating at the top of the inner enclosures. These works were displayed recently in Taiwan in an exhibition titled “Waterscape” and you can see them in action in the video below. (via Design Milk)
While most people are satisfied with giving their pet goldfish some colorful gravel, a plastic plant, and maybe one of those bubbly treasure chests, the entrants to the International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest (IAPLC) have turned aquarium design into an artform. The massive tanks require years of preparation and are focused almost entirely on the aesthetic presentation of plants using only natural elements.
The art of aquascaping is still a fledgling endeavor, first started in the 90s by Japanese wildlife photographer Takashi Amano. The annual IAPLC competition has grown dramatically since, with the 2015 contest seeing 2,545 entries from 69 countries. Japan, China, Brazil, and France dominate the top finalist spots (only 13 entries were from the United States). Finalists were announced in September.
The scoring of each aquarium is based on a complex matrix of six criteria: the recreation of natural habitat for fish; the creator’s technical skills; the long-term maintenance of the habitat; the originality and impression of the layout; presentation of natural layout; and the overall composition and planting ‘balance’. Participants face severe penalties for reconfiguring elements from their own past entries, stealing ideas from others, and using plants that may not last long-term in the environment presented.
In a fascinating blend of chemistry and sculpture, artist Mariele Neudecker builds three dimensional images contained within large aquariums, an ongoing series she refers to as “Tank Works.” Starting with source materials that include romantic paintings and photographs, Neudecker creates environments that attempt to interpret the 2D imagery in three dimensional space. The representational pieces are contained entirely within glass tanks filled to the brim with water that also contain fiberglass mountains, model ships, and other sculptural objects. She also adds chemicals that provide an element of atmosphere while also forming a sort of contained climate that changes gradually over the course of days, weeks, and months.
While primarily a sculptor Neudecker also works with film, video, and installation, much more of which you can see on her website. She discuss her tank works a bit more in this 2009 interview with CAFKATV.
No, these aren’t exactly your childhood goldfish bowls. The world of competitive aquarium design, or aquascaping, is just as difficult, expensive, and cutthroat as any other sport but requires expertise in many different fields to guarantee success. Aquarium designers possess large amounts of expertise in biology, design, photography, and excel in the art of patience, as individual aquascapes can take months if not years to fully mature into a completed landscape.
The world’s largest nature aquarium and aquatic plants layout competition is the International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest (IAPLC) which annually ranks hundreds of competitors from around the world with Asian and Eastern European countries generally dominating the top slots. While it’s somewhat difficult to track down galleries of winners from every year, above are some amazing entries from the last few years. To see more, oh so much more, check out: IAPLC Grand Prize Works, IAPLC 2011 Top 27, IAPLC 2013 Top 6, IAPLC 2012 Top 200 (or here), and the first Eastern European Planted Aquarium Design Contest.