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Re: "Nature"?

On Wed, 13 Feb 2002, Bob Olesen wrote:
> Personally, an idealized version of nature is my goal. I think Mr. Amano said 
> of one of his efforts, something to the effect of, "Imitating nature in order 
> to surpass her."  I may have misquoted him, but such is the general idea many 
> of us aspire to.

I'd like to expound on the Nature Aquarium concept a bit, or at least on
my view of the concept.

Last year I became interested in Amano's use of stone and went surfing the
internet to find the roots to some of his layouts.  That led me on to some
books on Japanese gardens.

A couple of my books contain descriptions of the concept of the Japanese
garden that are nearly identical to Amano's descriptions of the concept of
the "Nature Aquarium".  The gardening books go on to explain design
concepts that Amano certainly uses in his aquariums, but didn't fully
explain in his texts.  I think that anyone with an interest in the
Japanese aquascaping style owes it to themselves to get their hands on
some books about Japanese gardens and to study the sections on concept,
design and layout.

I don't think the "Nature Aquarium" concept has much at all to do with
"looking like nature" -- despite Amano's tendency to interleave his
aquarium photos with landscape photos.  Perhaps there is something lost in
the translation, or something unsaid because it seems unnecessary.  I
don't believe that the requirement is for the land/aquascape to look like
nature, but for the garden or aquascape to adhere to some very formalized
concepts of natural composition and balance.  Those concepts are long
divorced from the natural conditions they were supposedly based on.

The most important concept seems to be that the land/aquascape must be
composed of natural materials or of materials that blend harmoniously with
natural materials.  In the aquarium that means that the aquascape uses
naturally weathered stones and wood.  They never use freshly blasted rock
or worked wood.  The substrate material isn't necessarily natural, but it
must appear to be natural.

A second important concept is that the arrangements of plants and
materials must appear stable and informal. Rocks and wood don't teeter in
unstable positions.  Plants are loosely grouped -- usually in odd numbers.  
They are almost never forced into hedges, rows or walls.  Groups of plants
usually consist of three or more different kinds of plants rather than
several of the same kind of plant.  In Amano's aquascapes even the
foreground "lawns" are often composed of two or more different plants
intimately intergrown; they aren't unnatural-looking monocultures.

The actual arrangement may appear loose and natural, but there are
actually a lot of rules about how the arrangements are made.  Amano went
into some detail about his use of the golden section.  Further, plants and
other objects are often arranged in isosceles triangles to provide a sense
of balance.  Groups of 5 or 7 objects are generally sized and arranged in
very specific ratios.

Further,some of the arrangements (of stone in particular) carry a
traditional symbolism and that lends a sense of depth and meaning to the
land/aquascapes. In a garden, a single stone arranged with its "grain"
aligned vertically may represent a waterfall. Two dissimilar stones
arranged together may represent man and woman, yin and yang or good and
evil.  Three stones might represent the trinity -- which could be Buddist
or Christian.

It appears to me that a "Nature Aquarium" is an aquascape composed of
natural and natural-appearing materials that adheres to design principles
that produce a sense of natural composition and visual balance; it has
little to do with looking like a natural scene.

Roger Miller