Therapeutic Tranquility and Onboard Aquariums
Posted Jan. 29, 2015, 11:54 a.m.
And Onboard Aquariums
By Theo Woodham Smith
Aquariums are certainly having a moment. ‘The bespoke aquarium is a 21st century expression of ultimate interior luxury, ’ says Roland Horne, co-director of the British company, Aquarium Architecture, who count high profile ‘names’ the world over amongst their clientele.
A glossy list: UAE Royal Family, sports stars Thierry Henry, Kevin Pietersen, Joe Hart, Wayne Rooney, actor Gillian Anderson, developers Candy & Candy, Finchatton, Berkeley Homes, architects Foster and Rogers, former Mayor of NYC Michael Bloomberg, global brands Estee Lauder, Facebook, Toyota.
Jeremy Clark and Roland Horne, are specialists in bespoke aquarium design, installation and maintenance. Each aquarium is designed to blend with its immediate surroundings, a miniature water world reflecting the tastes, travels and fantasies of clients, light years away from the murky green goldfish bowls of yesteryear.
With offices in London and New York, partners in Lagos, Milan and Manchester, they operate internationally within short time frames, employing a team of twelve in their London studios, including an in-house architect who deals with technical and structural aspects, and installation specialists whose backgrounds range from qualified master divers to plumbers.
Yacht owners are also buying aquaria, typically via the yacht builder who will approach Aquarium Architecture with a brief during the design and building process. Much of this work emanates from Florence, where Roland Horne has decided to exhibit at a big yacht show next year. They have established an office near Viareggio, location of many important yacht builders.
The cool way to inject colour, movement, with the fascination of a living artwork into your living room, restaurant, club or yacht is to install an aquarium. Each bespoke fish tank includes exotic tropical fish, dazzling colours and light effects. An aquarium is the way to customise an interior like no other, and it doesn’t need to affect your square footage. It can be built into a wall. Or better, it can be the wall itself. One of Horne’s favourites, an ideal yacht design, has edges almost invisible to the naked eye, and more like a window into the ocean than a yacht design.
For Roland Horne, the story began in childhood. He was born in Dublin, close to the sea. His parents loved animals, there were birds, dogs, cats, hamsters, rabbits, even a giant owl living in the kitchen. He would stroll along the romantic shores of the east coast of Ireland, and as he describes it, this experience of gradual ‘immersion’ while not exactly Jacques Cousteau, led to a career devoted to all things aquatic.
There was one galvanising spark which led to the birth of Aquarium Architecture. It arrived during his studies for a masters degree at the London School of Economics. His parents had moved to a house in North London and there was a suitable gap in the wall – which could have been an ant farm or a rotisserie oven, but Roland decided on a 1000 litre saltwater coral reef aquarium, his first.
Always the resourceful man of business (selling forbidden sweets to schoolmates was an early start), he worked part time in a Hampstead aquatic shop in exchange for the aquarium. The shop collapsed, but Roland realised there was a strong demand for customer led aquarium design.
Six months after graduating, Horne left his job as an oil trader to launch his new business with his friend and co-founder Jeremy Clark.
Necessary and inspiring for the creative process is to spend time in Fiji, Indonesia, Australia, Egypt, and other diving destinations, looking for coral and fish. ‘We are meticulous about our sources’ he insists, ‘everything must be acquired in a humane and sustainable fashion’. Most species come from Australia and Indonesia, are shipped within 24 hours to their final destinations.
‘We are committed to designing the most natural aquaria possible, I photograph every angle of a reef so that when we return to Europe or the US we can produce a truly accurate design. I have been diving in many parts of the world, but the best for me is the National Marine Park in the Red Sea, Ras Mohammed. I admit to being a coral geek and this protected park has fantastic natural specimens and thousands of wonderful fish. Another favourite is Kho Phi Phi in Thailand, where diving with manta rays and whale sharks is profoundly exciting.’
The process of installing aquaria for yachts requires specialist technical expertise, though the guiding principles of understanding a particular space and the clients’ vision remain constant. They start with a consultation, visit the site, provide an estimate, and for yachts recommend the use of acrylic material rather than natural glass, which is always preferred for land based tanks.
Either fresh water or saltwater tanks can work on a yacht, though Horne is convinced salt water, though more costly, is infinitely more colourful, a more satisfying aesthetic experience..
The aquarium designer works closely with the yacht builder- engineer at every stage of the process, given official title ‘tank project manager’ says engineer Luca Natalini, company partner in Italy. They manufacture bespoke mechanical, electric and hydraulic plants. Each tank has a specially designed lighting scheme, life support and filtration system.
An ocean going yacht can meet rough seas, so emergency procedures are vital, with a system in place to protect coral, valuable fish and the tank itself against storms and strong winds. They train the crew in the techniques of weekly maintenance, providing initial instruction, final tests and a printed reference manual..
Smart technology can also monitor aquaria on board by computer, even vital maintenance can be controlled from any distance. Part of the service is to make regular inspections of the tank, a complicated small scale eco-system with so many component parts to keep in perfect order.
With his global knowledge of the world of aquarius, Roland has noticed certain trends and tastes in aquaria, towards authenticity which he enjoys, but also towards size, especially in the US, not relevant for yachts, where concision and careful planning of every inch of space is paramount.
Another trend is the use of jelly fish in aquaria, and until recently there was the Nemo and Dory effect. The success of ‘Finding Nemo’ Roland reckons increased his business three fold.
He defines the business as a ‘fine art’ which has taken him years to learn, but it combines science with art, says his partner Jeremy. Roland focuses on sales and marketing, Jeremy, who left a job in logistics to join him, concentrates on ‘operations’. They are now leading the field, and complement each other’s qualities.
On the question of prices, aquaria are destined for the affluent, starting at £15K for a freshwater aquarium, and £25K for a saltwater tank. The biggest project so far cost its owner £1.2m. A most dramatic installation was for the artist Pierre Hugin and it involved a crab, hermit shell and a setting like a Martian landscape. This was eventually sold to a Japanese buyer in New York for £250k.
Aquaria, like home cinemas, wine cellars, gymnasiums and underground pools are increasingly sought after by affluent high fliers, not only for decorative delight, but to calm and soothe the spirit. Super yachts can also give their owners a feeling of escape, freedom, peace and a sense of control, aquaria are said to have the same therapeutic tranquillity.