Aquariums are unique in the world of home decoration. Unlike paintings, which are flat and two-dimensional, and unlike televisions and furniture, which generally face in just one direction, aquariums can provide a complete 360 degree viewing experience. It’s common to see aquariums set flush against walls or tucked into the corners of rooms, so it’s easy to forget this fact.

In the world of real estate they say that there are three important things when deciding to buy a house: location, location, location. The same is true for your aquascape. As soon as you install an aquarium in a living space, you automatically establish the best and worst viewing angles. Placing an aquarium in the middle of a living space means that the aquascape needs to be beautiful from every single angle.

This can present aquascapers with a truly difficult challenge. The best aquascapes create a beautiful interplay between foreground, middleground, and background. Designing an aquascape with this layout is a piece of cake if the aquarium is against the wall — you put the background pieces near the back and the foreground pieces near the front. Easy peasy.

Cylindrical Aquarium for 360 Degree Viewing

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Centerpiece aquascapes, on the other hand, don’t have a back or front, so aquascapers have to get creative with their designs. One of the most popular solutions is to create an island layout. In this setup, aquascapers cluster background pieces in the middle of the aquascape like some sort of miniature volcanic island jutting up out of the sand. Aquascapers then surround the island with middleground plants and rocks before decorating the surrounding rim with tiny foreground objects.

This mountain-like layout ensures that viewers will be able to enjoy a smooth foreground-middleground-background transition regardless of their viewing angle — perfect for aquariums in stairwells, hallways, and the middle of living spaces.

Of course, you can’t just create a huge island shape and expect everything to come out a-okay. One of the biggest challenges of centerpiece aquascapes is that you can’t hide unsightly props. Let’s say, for example, that you have an intricate piece of driftwood that you want to incorporate in your aquarium. One side is twisted and interesting, but the other side is smooth and dull. Normally, you’d just position the driftwood so that the interesting part faces outward and hide the boring part against the back of your aquascape. If you do that in a 360 degree aquarium, then you’re improving one viewing angle at the expense of others.

Circular Aquarium at a Pet Store

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It’s absolutely critical that you design your aquascape with every possible viewing angle in mind. It’s almost like crafting a clay sculpture or a 3D computer model — you can’t predict how viewers will encounter the object, so you have to ensure that every angle is just as interesting as the last. You want your audience to slowly circle your art piece, gazing in wonder at the visual complexity and beauty of your three-dimensional art.

Don’t let any of this scare you away from getting a custom centerpiece aquarium. They may be a little bit harder to design, but I personally believe that 360 degree aquariums are absolutely breathtaking.