The modern building quietly standing at the mouth of Tejo River in the heart of Lisbon, Portugal is Oceanário de Lisboa, which was designed by Peter Chermayeff. The aquarium is one of the most renowned aquaria in Europe, and also ranked at world No.2 in 2014 on the travel site from USA called TripAdvisor. The name is known as the world’s leading aquarium as well as for building a great reputation. Toward the opening of the exhibition in late April, the making of the world’s largest Nature Aquarium by Takashi Amano has finally begun in Lisbon. The working team consists of ADA, the Oceanário, and the volunteer staff from Europe including Portugal, Spain, France, Germany, and Poland. The massive 40m tank installed in the new expansion building at the Oceanário de Lisboa was brought to life by Takashi Amano and the team.
Born in Niigata (former Maki-machi), Japan, Takashi Amano established his own planted layout style named Nature Aquarium (NA) and started “Aqua Design Amano Co., Ltd. (ADA)” in 1982. In 1992, his picture book, “Glass no Naka no Daishizen”, was published. Followed by the picture book, “Nature Aquarium World”, his books are translated into 7 languages, which opened up NA to the enthusiasts all around the world. As well as building a career as an entrepreneur, he has visited the three largest rainforests of Amazon, Borneo and West Africa, and virgin forests in Japan to work on photography by using large format cameras. As an aquascaper, CEO of ADA and an ecological landscape photographer, Amano has been involved in a wide range of activities.
AJ: Congratulations on your creation of the world’s largest Nature Aquarium. How do you feel about it now?
Amano: I just feel relieved to complete this project because I was thinking that I was the only one who can handle this 40m aquarium tank. I fulfilled my responsibility to create the very best layout for the project. There will be a lot more challenges in maintenance, but now I simply feel relieved that I have passed the baton to the Portuguese side.
AJ : How did you feel when you first saw the 40m tank with your eyes at Oceanário de Lisboa?
Amano: I have done a thorough simulation in my mind, so I believed that I could handle and do anything that can happen in the production scene. I have enough experience that supports my belief and I trust my adaptability.
AJ: There were various challenges in the driftwood prepared by Oceanário de Lisboa about its remained buoyancy and whether the size is too small. How did you feel when you saw an
array of driftwood on the first day?
Amano: When I first saw the driftwood prepared by Oceanário de Lisboa, I felt, “I can make it with these wood.” I just know that kind of sense by sight. Oceanário side has prepared plenty of driftwood and I knew I could manage somehow. The approach of attaching stones to driftwood had been in my mind as a solution to avoid the risk of wood floating out of substrate. Since it was my first time to use this approach, I was also planning which wire to use to tie the rocks and stones around the wood before coming to Portugal. Usually, there is no way we use floaty driftwood (grin). We didn’t know the shapes and textures of driftwood until we saw the actual pieces. That was my concern but I’m happy I have somehow managed it in the end.
AJ: It must be hard to place driftwood in the tank to construct the composition frame. You finally used up all the driftwood prepared and made a fantastic layout composition on the spot in a short period of time by using impromptu ideas. What were you conscious of?
Amano: I always make meticulous planning. On the night after the day’s session and in the morning before starting the activities, I made simulation in every aspect, from work procedures to the time allocation for each process. It was impossible for me to drive the team forward
unless I input every detail of the work in mind in advance. Through my experience of working with various people in the world, I know people from each country have their own strengths and weaknesses, which are different from those of Japanese. I always try to bring out their strengths and good points as much as possible. Therefore, I actually prepared yellow and red cards so that everyone can work equally under the same rules, though I was the only referee (laughter). Finally, none of the team was sent off, because every one of them worked hard following my direction.
AJ: Most of the overseas staff joined the making of Nature Aquarium for the first time. I am pretty sure they were surprised to see how fast the work progressed.
Amano: Speed is important for layout making. Basically, the speed of constructing composition frame using stones and driftwood should be constant regardless if the tank is small or large. As this part of the process speeds up, the layout will look more vibrant with dynamic flow. I never become indecisive in layout making. I am perfectly confident of what I do; so I don’t go for a do-over.
AJ: After the layout making was completed, you said that the layout turned out 200% better than you had imagined. What motivated you to create that magnificent work?
Amano: It’s hard to say what motivated me, but I had a strong sense of mission. I have been thinking that this would be my lifetime project and I simply and wholeheartedly wanted to create something great so that Oceanário de Lisboa would feel that it was a right choice that they invited me for the layout making. I was simply glad to see all the aquarium staff feeling happy about the layout during the party after the completion of the layout. This made me ultimately happy as I thought my mission had been accomplished. As I mentioned earlier, this layout was created under various constraints and accordingly, there were a lot of challenges. Yet, we solved these challenges quite well, actually better than I expected. Before starting the layout making, I anticipated that I might not be able to express the fine details of layout to my satisfaction due to the constraints and other various conditions. But in the end, the layout turned out very magnificent with a sense of subtle meticulousness. In every layout making, there are plenty of uncertainties which can be clarified only after the production commences. For this project, I guess many things went well despite my anticipation.
AJ: In this project, there were many things which did not go smoothly although you had spent more than one year for the preparation. I believe
that your sense of mission and passion was the greatest source of power which led to this layout making a big success.
Amano: Yes, we faced a lot of problems. Some of these include a fact that we couldn’t get enough epiphytic aquatic plants and asked for donations from all over Japan. Another one is that Wabi-kusa was not produced as what I had instructed and we had to produce a large number of Wabi-Kusa urgently. We were so worried that the Wabi-kusa might not have received enough sunlight. I had never lamented the winter sky of Niigata until that time. Though we had many troubles constantly throughout the past one year, the only thing in my mind was to bring this project to success and since I have accepted the invitation to this project, it was my responsibility to create something great. Frankly speaking, I was not sure if Oceanário de Lisboa was serious about this plan when I first received the offer from them. Then, I went to Portugal to meet them and at that time, I finally found out that Oceanário de Lisboa was seriously hoping to implement the project. However, I had a physical concern for a while and almost turn down the offer. Yet, I have always been trying my very best to create an outstanding layout to respond to Oceanário de Lisboa’s enthusiasm and to accomplish my own sense of mission. Based on my belief to deliver an
excellent work whatever the job offered, I never wanted to compromise. As I told you earlier, I put priority on this project at all times and I always ran a simulation of layout making in my mind. So, everything about layout making, including the design of the details, was ready in mind and on top of it, I did meticulous preparation for this project. I strongly believed that I was the only person who could do this job, so I was delighted that I created a work for which I could say it’s 200% better than I had imagined.
AJ: You named this massive lifetime Nature Aquarium “The Tropical Paradise”. What ambition or aspiration is contained in this title?
Amano: Frankly speaking, I didn’t really have a particular feeling about this title (laughter). When I was a child, around 10 years old, I really enjoyed playing in nature and the place I used to play at that time is the indelible scene of my childhood. But my beloved nature in my hometown has drastically changed as the time progressed. I have stepped into untouched nature in the world, but many of them have also changed and lost its beauty a few years later because of human intervention. Since I know the good old days, I feel so sad to see the nature being ruined by human and at the same time, I felt the fragility of nature. The paradise I had thoroughly enjoyed disappeared in these last 50 years. As a protest
against it, or maybe as a penance to myself, I wanted to recreate beautiful nature which allured me. This is what I want to express ultimately, not only with this massive 40m tank but even with small tanks. I believe that how we develop our mind to pursue beautiful nature determines the creation of environment where human being can live with nature in harmony and prosperity … In order to create a beautiful layout which can touch peoples’ heart, we need to elaborately express the magnificence and meticulousness of nature entirely in good balance. That is how nature should be and we cannot make Nature Aquarium without knowing nature. Especially when making a layout in a massive aquarium tank, we must do everything perfectly as the layout demonstrates
the full-scale nature. To me, it was easier to recreate the native natural environment in a massive aquarium tank. In this 40m tank, the layout making was just like building a river and therefore, I focused on the expressiveness of river. The layout is almost like one symphony telling a story. It allures those who see it from shallow to deep waters, and from an open space to a lush jungle. The world where not only the fish but a wide variety of life forms can survive together - that is and will be the paradise I have been pursuing for. Truly beautiful landscape only lives in a beautiful ecosystem. It is my great pleasure if this Nature Aquarium moves the people who see it and conveys something to them.
Group photo session with the project staff. We are from different countries but share one heart.
Director: Anže Peršin
Original music: Rodrigo Leão