Using ceramic to tell The Homestead story

The creation of the 38m-long ceramic wall is a labour of love on the part of the world-class team of brand storytellers, artists, designers, ceramicists and illustrators. Taking inspiration from brand strategists Bulldog Drummond, South African design firm Egg Designs created the concept of the ceramic wall, its positioning and materials, to tell The Homestead story. Egg Designs founders Greg and Roche Dry briefed artists Kim Longhurst, of The Curators, to interpret the elements of The Homestead story from their concept and now, ceramicists VLVLK are working very closely with Greg, Roche and Kim to apply their alchemy to create unique, tactile clay surfaces, from opulent to glossy and textured to matte, colour to 3D. Wayne is adding some personal artefacts to the ceramic wall and Kelly from Modern Museum has illustrated some plaques that will be embedded in the wall.

Wayne’s ethos and commitment to create an eco-conscious social environment made better by every interaction, resonated deeply with the world-class storytellers and creators who have collaborated to create the ceramic wall and their touchstone has been the concept of connection: the connections woven into the history, the land and the people of The Homestead, on so many different levels.

The architecture of The Homestead is rectilinear and partially monolithic in its structure, both on approach and when entering. Greg and Roche knew that Wayne wanted to juxtapose the exterior architecture of The Homestead, in the interior, and they introduced the “ribbon”, a series of design elements that are used as tools to draw guests through the long spaces, achieving seamless movement. The Homestead building is divided into thirds with the first part being the arrival, the second section the central courtyard space and the last third part is the pool area, which opens to the magnificent view overlooking the escarpment. Egg Designs used the “ribbon” concept to link the spaces and to encourage guests to engage with the spaces and begin The Homestead narratives.

The open space courtyard has a wall that is 38m in length and 3.5m high. Egg Designs created a concept that not only answered the brief materially but also proposed how this wall could become a core aspect of exploration for The Homestead brand narrative. Greg and Roche’s concept delivers a 3D ceramic mural, with glazed layers and colour, that tell the story of The Homestead, tempting guests to interact with the structure and on closer inspection, guests can explore the elements of peace, love and understanding, at length.

The mural is positioned at an architectural center point from which all points of the Homestead radiate to or from, connecting it with the physical space. The mural is a linked thought chain between the developers, architect, designers, collaborators, artisans, craftspeople, locals, staff and guests, connecting it with the conceptual space. Ultimately, the mural connects the past, the present and the future in a simultaneous network of geological layers.

The collaborators’ collective vision was to create a mural that depicts The Homestead beyond the Big 5, the flora and fauna and the majesty of the Drakensberg Mountains, its rock faces and silhouette. Initially, the mural may be viewed as an abstract piece of art that conveys the scale of the land and its textures, igniting curiosity and fostering deeper connections. Closer inspection reveals a mural that tells the story of the surrounding area but also gives the viewer so much to read and explore in the detailed work. Of course, art is subjective and everyone has a different visceral response to art according to their own experiences – the mural will be interpreted differently by everyone who experiences it. There will be plenty of stories to engage with, whether you’re exploring the mural yourself or walking alongside it with a team member.

The mural is a tactile, interactive, universal visual palette of shapes, textures, raised patterns, marks, lines, and inserts that tells stories through recollection of the past to learn about the future and to prepare for change. QR codes will be integrated into the mural, and these can be scanned to reveal stories, insights and educational information. Discovery, connection, storytelling, and education are fundamental aspects of the mural and The Homestead. 

In production, VLVLK will deploy 3D smooth geometric solid shapes to create relief press or slip cast moulds for the tiles, combining natural formation with a tech construct. Everyone at The Homestead will be able to track the movement of the sun across the mural as it casts shadows, tracking the passage of time. The escarpment, a steep slope separating areas of land at different heights, traditional dongas that enclose homes and livestock, waterholes, shields and ruins and the architectural remains that are the foundation of The Homestead, are all illustrated in the mural. Raised patterns are created in the ceramic tiles: high relief Amasumpa mimics the clay spikes and patterns on Zulu beer pots and Intaglio is used to incise images into a surface.

The mural’s natural textures of ironstone, animal hides (skin and fur), plant specimens, spoor, rock, soil, clay, wood and the pits and pocks of water all depict nature and create surface tension and dynamism in the mural. There is an incredible tradition of craft in South Africa, where craft is considered an art form and is passed down through generations, usually by women. High relief or alto-relief, where the form projects outward from the base flat surface in 3D and Intaglio, or hollow relief, where the form is sunk below the level of the base flat surface in 3D, are both used to depict the layers of the land’s topography - the escarpment, dongas, waterholes, leaves - and the foundations of The Homestead, the ruins. 

Within the layers of the mural there will be a layer where one would want to run one’s hand – it’s human nature to want to ergonomically touch. Humble objects, the parts of ourselves that we leave behind, tell the best stories and Kim is inserting those objects into the mural to leave impressions and future fossils, recreating the casings and hollows left in soil, clay, and rock when objects decay. Carapaces, bones, horn, teeth, tusks, shells, tools, weapons, buttons, bullets, keys, spear tips, nails and needles will all be inserted into the mural as an assemblage of people, land, nature, and history. Plainer tiles are also being used as a contrast to detail, texture, and topography extrusions, creating more shapes for the eye within the length of the mural.

The Homestead is being built to be part of the landscape rather than forcing itself on to the landscape and the same principle applies to the ceramic mural. The clay being used for the tiles is a red clay that has a high iron content, indicative of the soil in the land surrounding The Homestead. Furthermore, ceramic is a material as close to nature as you can possibly get – in archaeology it’s used to date and describe a civilisation. Once the sculpting work and the incising and moulding are complete, the ceramic tiles will be partially fired, then glazed afterwards. A glass powder that will adhere to the surface of the clay, the glaze will run off some of the high areas and pool in debossed areas to create a beautiful finish where the clay will show through the high gloss surface, which means that the texture of clay will have a high grog content – a granular, sandy, speckled texture.

The glaze stage is also where the magic happens. VLVLK are applying meticulously methodical, scientific, formulaic techniques to the ceramic: the spontaneity of the firing, when the glaze reacts with the temperature and the surface of the tiles, will deliver beautiful variations in colour that the designers can’t predict. Due to the scale of the project, VLVLK have deconstructed the entire project down into a grid format and numbered all the tiles, so that during production and installation they can replace elements if they don’t come out of firing as anticipated. Installation will almost be like paint-by-numbers!

The story of the Captain’s Table is one of two different families coming together and rather than a literal interpretation, wooden table legs will be cast and repeated within the mural, as a graphic element. The three icons that represent the ethos of The Homestead, Peace, Love and Understanding, are also conveyed, more literally. Understanding is represented by the national animal icons of the countries involved in building The Homestead; wedding rings and a table will symbolise Love (the story of the captain and his wife) and Peace will depict elements of war and why we need to learn from history and move forward, creating connections to prevent us from repeating the mistakes of the past.