The Secrets Behind Immersive Aquarium Design
Oscar Holland 奥斯卡·霍兰
At the Tennessee Aquarium， visitors pass through a series of changing ecosystems inhabited by river otters，salamanders and brightly colored sunfish. The experience has been specifically designed to replicate the route taken by the neighboring Tennessee River， which flows from the Appalachian Mountains down to the Gulf of Mexico.
The attraction， located in Chattanooga， was once the world's largest freshwater aquarium， though it now pales in comparison to the gargantuan oceanariums of China and the Middle East.
But the secret to good aquarium design is not all about size - it's about telling a story， according to one of the architects behind the project.
“The Tennessee Aquarium is really the story of the Tennessee River，” said Peter Sollogub， associate principal at the architecture firm Cambridge Seven， in a phone interview.
“We look for stories that can take a collection of animals and orchestrate them into a larger experience. It's like a film， a piece of music or a book - you progress through it and， when you leave， you feel as if you've gone on a comprehensible journey.”
Having started out working on the New England Aquarium in the 1960s， Sollogub is a veteran in the aquarium world. He has since helped create public facilities across the US， as well as in Italy， Portugal and Japan.
The first priority is always， he said， the fish themselves. But when it comes to visitors' experiences，the design process revolves around how - and where -people encounter them. Most aquariums are built in a “linear” way， meaning that visitors rarely deviate from a set path.
“Take the splendor of jellyfish or the wonder of penguins - things that are spectacular unto themselves，” Sollogub said. “What we try to do is enhance them by developing encounters in which you pass through them， or see them swimming over and under you， or at different levels.”
For architect James Hampton， a crucial element of design is what he calls the "wow factor." This seems like an apt way to describe the walk-through tunnel at Dubai Mall's 2.6-million-gallon aquarium - a project Hampton was involved in - a 157-foot-long passage with 270-degree views of fish in the surrounding water.
Creating naturalistic environments， whether through rocks or artificial coral， is central to the art of aquarium design. Keeping out sunlight is also a priority，as it can produce algae and unwanted reflections. These considerations not only provide marine life with more realistic habitats， but they encourage people to enter an all-important state of suspended disbelief.
Since the first so-called “shark tunnel” was built in Auckland， New Zealand， in 1985， walk-throughs and large viewing screens have become an industry standard.
“With the ‘old-style’ aquariums， visitors would pay their 10 dollars， have an hour or so looking through these‘picture frames’ at the exhibits， and then they'd walk out，” Hampton said. “Generally， they've had a good experience， but now it's much more immersive.”
“When you walk into a cinema， you want to be wowed by the big screen and intense color right there in your face - and that's what we try and do， with as much acrylic as possible， so you really feel the environment that you're in.”
Both Hampton and Sollogub see these tools as a means to an end. The ultimate goal is to create an emotional connection between humankind and nature. This in turn， Sollogub said， informs the educative approach that underpins aquarium design.
“The greatest part of working on aquariums is bringing guests to places they have never encountered before，” he said. “They were as wide-eyed as you can imagine， and that's really what it's all about.”
“I think aquariums are education at its purest. You're not telling people what to think， you're allowing them to feel it and experience it - to become part of it.”