Thursday, May 4, 2017

Outdoor aquarium tanks

Locating aquarium exhibits out of doors and in the landscape offers a wealth of advantages and design opportunities.
Integrating the exhibits into the environment allows for a highly complex natural experience for the animals and the visitors. Visitors see fish as part of nature rather than isolated in a tank in a building.

Plants grow healthily and plantings can be incorporated into the design - in fact, the landscape is integral and a highlight of the design. Animals in the exhibit experience a more natural life - they have access to the open air and the weather, natural light, and insects and birds may visit their water body.

Traditional aquariums are usually indoors and the cost of the building is exponentially greater than the cost of an outdoor tank exhibit. Corrosive saltwater further drives up the cost of any building material surrounding a tank.

Outdoor, landscaped aquarium exhibits are not often a consideration for a new design because they don't allow for complete control of the parameters of the exhibit. Algae growth is often cited as a problem, but I spoke with aquarists at an outdoor exhibit in Abu Dhabi and they said they experienced less growth in their outdoor tanks.

In Oregon along a hiking trail this viewing window is set into the side of a naturally flowing stream. It was not a captive fish exhibit and when I was there there weren't many fish to see. But I was told one can observe larger trouts here.

At the Pilsen Zoo in the Czech Republic fish tanks presenting a stream habitat are viewed from the side in a cutaway tank. The surrounding area is landscaped.
The first video shows unfortunate reflection that occurs when the screen (and the observer) aren't in the shade.


But there is also this larger tank that the visitor sees from inside a grotto. The fish can enjoy the sun, wind and rain. The visitor can enjoy a perfect reflection-free viewing experience.  It's great. The windows are narrow, which keeps the glass thin and prevents a green hue.

Pilsen Zoo, Outdoor fish tanks.

The visitor is standing in a grotto, the fish swim under open sky. No reflection issue here.

Again, no reflection issue. 

A bit more shading on the visitor side and this would make a perfect viewing experience.

At Cleveland Zoo in Ohio the visitors are under a covered area and the fish are not - it can rain and snow into the tanks while the visitor stays dry. The photos below were taken during a heavy downpour with thunder and lightning.

Birds and insects can enter the exhibits. Which might need consideration.

A cutaway view offers a unique view into the animals' habitat. Everyone has experienced looking into a pond or stream from above.

Here's a great example from the Sea Life Park in Tokyo. It rained that day, too. But I'm standing in a covered (but unheated) building. The viewing was excellent.

Sea Life Park Tokyo

The large tank with the greenish hue, was covered in a net that was barely visible to the visitor. Unfortunately the tank was poorly stocked. Only a few and small fish.
But the last 3 feet show a beautifully decorated tank with an excellent viewing experience.

Below: many more photos of  outdoor tanks. Some are within a netted area, an aviary; good to keep birds in, and other birds out. Here the net is nicely hidden from view by the lush vegetation.

This photo is taken from inside a greenhouse, with the visitor being inside, and the fish tank outside.

Below more photos that show outdoor tanks. Either as cutaways or as ponds.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Piano-Wire Fence: keeping the focus on the animal not the barrier

A piano-wire fence creates an inconspicuous and unobtrusive barrier between visitors and animals.

I recently saw a very tall example of a piano-wire fence at the Raptor Roost in the Albuquerque Zoo (ABQ Biopark). It's probably the tallest piano-wire fence I have seen in any zoo.

It's easy to see why it makes such a great barrier. The focus of my camera never picked up the fence and instead went right through to what matters: the animal.

While I was sorting out the photos for this post I had some ideas to improve the layout of the exhibit. The shape of the building could parallel the visitor's sight line - this would reverse the exhibit layout.

The way it's built the visitor looks against the back crossbeam (red arrow). On the right I show an alternate version:  the crossbeam has been moved above the visitor's sight line which keeps the view clean and is less distracting. And it makes the space higher where it matters for the animals: in the back of the exhibit where the nests and perching sites are located.

The front facade is needlessly high. Photo below: the visitors standing in front of the exhibit would have to throw their heads way back to see the beam above.

The front facade only needs to be around 15 feet tall for the crossbeam to be out of view.
15 feet would be still an impressively tall piano-wire facade and it might avoid one of the disadvantages of every piano-wire fence: the longer the wires the easier they are to bend apart, creating an escape route for animals if they challenge the barrier.

In order to keep the animals at Raptor Roost from parting the piano-wire a horizontal wire has been woven into the fence about 12' above the ground (photo above).
The animals living here aren't much of a challenge for the fence: Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos, American Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus, and Andean Condor Vultur gryphus.

I also noticed the bottom girder.

This would be easy to hide, either with plants or by simply covering it in dirt and rocks as shown below.

Here's another view of the bottom girder (labeled Original).
I photo-sketched an improved version below the Original.

Here's the complete list of improvements:

1. Cover up the bottom girder by raising the earth.
2. Reduce the amount of railing posts by half; change them from metal to wood.
3. Place tree trunks in front of the frame columns.
4. Change the pavement from concrete to earth (or it could be stamped concrete, but in either case something less formal than in the original photo).

Summary: I reduced the architecture and softened the overall look with warmer tones and natural elements to make it look less urban.

Below: a photo-sketch animation comparing the original photo and my improved version.

An equally efficient way of hiding the beam is with plants. And plants can be an advantage for the animals because even a narrow planting strip might translate into less stress for the animals.
(Here's a link to a study that discusses this issue.
The study,  by Durham University with Chester Zoo, found that planting a meter-wide barrier of shrubs between the visitors' viewing platforms reduced the animals' stress-related behavior by more than half.)

For some part the girder is already hidden behind plants (this can be seen in the opening photos of the this post).
Overall I noticed what a great job the horticulture department did. Not only in this exhibit but throughout the zoo. Which isn't surprising because I was told the Biopark's Botanical Garden is in charge of the planting.
Once again this shows that a good horticulturist is best defense against an architect.

To end with the focus back on the piano wire, here's a photo from further away. The piano-wire fence doesn't even show in this photo - only the frame work does (a change link fence would stick out much more).

Here's a photo from another vantage point. The shrub and trees help to conceal and soften the framework.

Piano wire fence is easy on the eyes but demanding on the material. For it to work the wires need to be tightly wound which puts a lot of stress on the high tensile wire and all supporting parts.
But not to have the view obstructed by heavy fencing is worth the cost.
photo copyright unless otherwise noted 2015 Martin Schuchert

Bald Eagle - sketches by Laura Hamilton