Science loves to dissect things and figure out what makes them tick. We expect scientists to get out their calculators when they work with things like space rockets and chemistry, but what about beauty? Can you quantify prettiness? Can you take a tape measure to a custom aquarium and objectively determine whether or not an aquascape is beautiful?

Well, yeah. I’d like to introduce you to 1.618, known as phi (not to be confused with 3.14, which is pi). Phi is used in the ratio 1:1.618 to create the Golden Ratio. You may have heard of that phrase before — it’s a measure of proportion that, for some reason, humans find absolutely beautiful. The legendary Parthenon, for example, was constructed following the principles of the Golden Ratio. Shells, pinecones, flowers, and other things in nature also share the 1:1.618 ratio.

You’d be amazed by how frequently the Golden Ratio appears in aquariums and other forms of artwork. Some people try to do it intentionally, incorporating specific mathematical measurements to create an aesthetically pleasing final effect. Others do it by accident. If someone charged you with the task of drawing a pretty picture, then you might accidentally arrange the shapes in relation to the Golden Ratio without even realizing it, just because it looks nice. The aquascaper from the picture below obviously took painstaking measures to ensure that his aquarium followed the proportions of the Golden Ratio.

These are the shapes that we can extract from the Golden Ratio. I know it looks a little bit complex, but once you see these shapes imposed over an aquascape it’s easy to see how it all fits together.

In the aquascape shown below, for example, notice how perfectly the plants fit within the Golden Ratio. The large, moss-covered branch is the focal point of the whole aquascape, and the thickest part of the branch falls squarely within the center of the golden spiral. Also, notice how much denser the plant life is the left of the vertical line compared to the right side of the vertical line. The dark plants in the lower-right-hand corner of the aquarium frame the whole aquascape within the sloping spiral of the Golden Ratio.

It’s the same story with the aquascape below. This particular aquarium is rather long, so all you have to do is stretch out the spiral to fit the dimensions and everything comes together. The aquascape’s focal point fits exactly within the Golden Spiral. The vertical and horizontal lines divide the aquascape quite nicely, and the right side of the aquarium follows the gentle slope of the spiral’s arm.

Should you incorporate the Golden Ratio into your next custom aquarium? You don’t have to feel like you’re required to use the Golden Ratio if you don’t want to. After all, the Golden Ratio is just one particular method of achieving beauty — there are many different roads to a stunning aquascape. But what makes the Golden Ratio so popular is that it’s practically fool-proof. Create your aquarium with 1:1.618 dimensions, and you’re virtually guaranteed to have a beautiful aquascape.

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