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The number one issue with aquariums in high risk clinical environments is infection control! An aquarium situated in a healthcare interior like a clinic, surgery or care home not only creates a dynamic and visually appealing feature, but is an effective tool for reducing anxiety, improving recovery and overall wellbeing. These remarkable benefits are often overshadowed by the potential health risk posed by the standard design aquarium system in clinical settings.

Aquariums can quite easily become hubs for communal cross infection as people (children in particular) will have a tendency to touch the display, leaving behind bacteria and viruses on the surface of the glass and surrounding cabinetry.  The other source of potential infection is the water itself, with waterborne bacteria potentially creating further complications with recovering patients.

Managing hygiene and cross contamination between patients, staff and members of the public is a major challenge faced by healthcare facilities. Hygiene is a big topic within this sector and the media, with recent outbreaks of so called super bugs causing epidemics on local and national levels. There are serious financial implications connected to poor hygiene for healthcare organisations. Consequences in the event of an outbreak can vary from more money been spent on resources for cleaning and treatments, to a chronic loss of revenue from closures of departments and buildings. This can be a real issue for private organisations that rely on reputation and trust to ensure future sales and consistent revenue.

The design of healthcare spaces has recently become a very specific niche within architectural and interior design. For a designer, creating beautiful healthcare spaces presents a difficult challenge as the usual materials and surfaces that most designers like to work with (i.e. wood, stone and fabrics) are unsuitable for the healthcare environment.

These materials contain pores that allow pathogens to hide and multiply, making these surfaces difficult to keep hygienically clean.  Non-porous surfaces like plastic, glass, corian and metals are typically used in these environments as they are easy to clean, however if not applied correctly these surfaces can create a very clinical feel to the environment. Recent innovations in this sector have led to the development of antimicrobial surfaces. These surfaces are made up of materials that contain properties which disrupt the molecular structures of bacteria and viruses causing them to die on contact.

By incorporating non-porous materials and antimicrobial technology into the design of an aquarium you can significantly reduce or even eliminate the risks related to poor hygiene and cross infection. The following design features are should be considered when specifying an aquarium into the layout of a healthcare space:

  1. Laminate the aquarium outer surface with antimicrobial glass such as the one developed by AGC.
  2. The support frame that bears the weight of an aquarium is usually made of wood, powder coated steel, or anodized aluminium. By using a copper plated aluminium frame you can prevent bacteria and fungus growing on those hard to reach surfaces.
  3. For cabinetry doors and panelling use corian or acyrllic. They are not anti-microbial but are strong, non-porous materials that are easy to clean and come in a wide range of colours.
  4. Alternatively use anti-microbial Copper or copper alloys (some copper alloys look like stainless steel) for doors and panelling.
  5. Significantly reduce the threat of waterborne bacteria and viruses by incorporating UV sterilisers into the aquarium circulation system. UV sterilisers continuously kill microorganisms by damaging the DNA.
  6. Ventilate the aquarium via extraction and ducting to remove moist air within the cabinetry preventing the proliferation fungus and the spread of spores.

Creating attractive spaces that are safe and suitable for the application intended is the challenge faced by every designer working with healthcare environments. By specifying interesting features that are made out of the right material a designer can transform a dull, emotionless clinical space into a visceral experience that encourages good wellbeing and a positive state of mind. The use of antimicrobial materials will increase the material cost of a project budget. However this initial investment pales in comparison to the costs associated with an outbreak.  Incorporating the right materials into the construction of a healthcare aquarium allows a designer to gain all the visual benefits an aquarium adds to a space whilst minimising the potential risks to patients and the public.

Author:  Aquarium designer, SBID member Akil Gordon-Beckford

For many the thought of a huge behemoth aquarium in their living room, kitchen or dining area can be off putting to say the least. Despite the tendency of aquarists (people who create or keep aquariums) to have a preference for larger aquariums, bigger isn’t necessarily better when talking about aquariums as integrated features within interiors.

When most people think of aquariums that have been integrated into the structure or interior of a space they usually think of huge awe inspiring installations worth £10,000’s or even £100,000’s.  A beautifully designed small aquarium can add just as much life and beauty to a space as a 3 metre long statement feature without emptying the bank account. Whilst the initial impact is more subtle, small aquariums still add a dynamic element to a space creating; light, colour and movement.

As I mentioned before fish keepers in general tend to have a “bigger is better” approach when designing and creating their aquariums. This tendency to create the largest possible aquarium (budget permitted) can sometimes lead to a break or disruption within the natural flow of a space. Often the result is a large overbearing eyesore that doesn’t really work with the layout of the room. From a design perspective this can make balancing aesthetics and functionality within a space challenging at best! The purpose of an aquarium within any interior should be to create balance and positive energy whilst adding a beautiful yet dynamic element to the space.

The UK is currently going through a small home crisis. An ever increasing demand for more affordable housing as a result of a highly inflated property market, has forced developers to build smaller new homes that sell for less money. This is compounded with the increasing pressure by local authorities and central government to restrict urban sprawl onto green belt land, forcing developers to create homes on space restrictive brown belt land as part of on-going urban regeneration schemes.  With limited space and an ever diminishing first time buyer’s market it’s little surprise that the average home in Britain today is 15% smaller than anywhere else in Europe.

The average UK home size of 818 square feet is currently 10% smaller than of 30 years ago. With increasing pressure on the government from developers lobbying for the complete removal of minimum size standards, it is totally plausible for the current trend of house size reduction to continue into the foreseeable future. According to studies carried out by RIBA UK houses are currently 8.8% smaller than what they should be, creating a detrimental effect on peoples stress levels and overall wellbeing.

Small aquariums solve the problems that can arise when designing or building an aquarium into a small space; as they are easier to assimilate into the physical environment, and so allow for more design options. The smaller footprint means that they can be easily built into corners, alcoves or specially adapted room furniture. They make great accent features by either drawing the attention to particular areas within a space or being part of a wider arrangement. i.e. a seating area or an accented display.

In terms of colour most modern and contemporary spaces tend have a subdued palette with stone colours and wood finishes or completely monochrome with white being the new black! For the designer who likes to add colour through accessorising a small aquarium is the perfect solution to add that splash of colour without disrupting those clean lines that they covert so dearly.

6 Tips for integrating a small aquarium into your interior

  1. Avoid placing near bright light sources like TV’s or computer screens as they will diminish the impact the aquarium and throw the room out of balance.
  2. Try to avoid brightly coloured areas and position your aquarium within a surrounding that’s either monochrome (black or white); or has subdued natural (stone/wood) tones like shades of brown or grey.
  3. Avoid over stocking with fish and focus more energy on the aquascape (interior layout) as this will play a big factor in the way that the tank impacts on the space.
  4. Tidy away any loose wires as they will detract from the overall presentation. Things like loose wiring are more noticeable on small tanks.
  5. When integrating into an enclosed space i.e. a cabinet or shelving unit, fan assisted ventilation is a must, with humidity and condensation being a real problem in small enclosed spaces
  6. Don’t let your aquarium get in the way! Small tanks are best situated around the peripheral area of a room. They are generally not big enough to be centrepieces around which furniture and other design elements can be arranged.

Within the last 5 years there has been an explosion of technological advances that has made keeping small aquaria a much more viable and affordable option. With an ever increasing population size and a demand for small and more affordable housing, this sector of the aquatics industry is set to expand massively within the next 10 years.  With the implications of cramped housing having an overall impact on general health and wellbeing it is totally foreseeable that small aquariums could increasingly become more popular with future home owners as they look for alternative ways to improve their quality of life.

Author:  Aquarium designer and SBID member Akil Gordon-Beckford 

Caption: Reef tank creating a colourful accent amidst this mostly monochrome interior by Aquarium Design Group


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