Zululami Coastal Estate: From Concept to Reality

Bernice Rumble of Land Art Studio recently gave a lecture to landscape architecture masters students at the University of Pretoria, discussing typical project processors that start with a concept and through an iterative process, find their way to completion.

One of these projects is Zululami Coastal Estate in KwaZulu Natal. The article below is an overview of her design

As depicted in SA Landscape, November 2023, Issue no. 131.

During the lecture, Rumble stated that a fundamental starting point for her is to always try to establish a clear design intent, and to ground any decision-making with that intent in mind. 

She stated that to narrate a project, it was necessary to translate knowledge and information from a variety of sources namely the client, beauty, art, the site’s ecology and environment, the proposed architecture, materials, man, politics and scale. “Landscape architects have the ability to bridge the gap between other professionals, organisations and the landscape. Zululami Coastal Estate allowed this process to unfold.” 

Design intent 

Zululami is a residential estate on the north coast of KZN. The design intent for the project was to align aesthetics with ecology for an improved quality of life and awareness of the environment. The built forms in the outdoor environment should not dominate but rather integrate, creating an environment that supports community living and activities within nature such as community gardens, walking trails through nature, bird hides, fishing, and sports facilities. 

The project presented two design opportunities: on a macro scale, restoration and rewilding, and on a micro scale, more formal design intervention opportunities. 

The 14ha valley of Zululami is intended to be the heart of the community and has been rewilded from a monoculture of sugar cane to a biodiverse ecological zone reflecting the endemic character of KZN with its coastal forests, swamp forests, coastal grasslands and wetlands.

This restoration and rewilding started with the large alien tree removal, with trunks cut and used in open spaces for soil erosion control and trail steps. This was followed by the removal of the sugar cane mono-culture and all other invasive species. This alien removal has been ongoing for four years and continues with nature starting to show a more robust character true to the relevant local biomes. The ecology and environment of Zululami now sits front and centre within the development’s footprint.

The formal design interventions were focused on the arrival node and clubhouse, with interventions around the gatehouse comprising permeable paving, a green wall wrapping the façade, a water element, roof gardens, a decorative metal trellis and concrete paving. In the case of the permeable paving, this was specified for the parking areas and comprised grass blocks and gravel with exposed aggregate beams as edge restraints. While grass alone cannot withstand vehicular traffic and excessive paving can lead to water management issues, SmartStone’s grass block merges the advantages of both paving and vegetation. It has a modern linear shape as opposed to the more commonly used honeycomb-shaped blocks, and is designed with cavities that allow grass to grow through. This is ideal for driveways and parking areas as it provides good load-bearing capacity, and at the same time blends with the natural surroundings. The grass helps to maximise soil water retention, protecting against erosion and giving colour and life to the area. 

The green wall wraps the main façade, using a modular gro-wall system and waterproofing. 

The 37m long water element was co-ordinated together with structural, electrical and civil engineers, as well as a water feature specialist for mechanical engineering aspects and a metal fabrication specialist for the spouts. The design of the water element comprised complicated levels that needed to be resolved at the start, as no correcting could take place once the concrete was poured. Metal sheet spouts provided a smooth surface for the water to run over, giving a soft, gentle sound. 

The roof garden was a concrete construction, with water proofing and drainage infrastructure. 

A decorative screen was custom-made by a metal specialist and introduced to break down the scale of the three-lane entrance. With limited horizontal growing space, the trellis offered a solution, which further required a non-conventional support footing. Cylindrical columns were used to form foundations, ensuring growth space. Senecio tamoides, Rhoicissus tridentata and Jasminum multipartitum were planted on the screen. 

The clubhouse focus was on a more intensive landscape within and around the built form, all culminating in a central courtyard. This courtyard is a formal design intervention within a project that is predominantly focused on landscape restoration. 

The space gives human scale and intimacy to the vastness of the 14-hectare valley that edges the clubhouse on its eastern side. The primary design intervention was the use of a graphic zen-like paving pattern used as the horizontal mechanism to integrate the architecture and the outdoor courtyard, with the garden acting as the connector between nature and the architecture. 

The combined hard and soft elements help in situating local ecology and aesthetics together to produce a calming and beautiful space enjoyed by residents and visitors. 

Landscape installation 

This was undertaken by Life Landscapes KZN, who received a silver award in the 2023 SALI Awards of Excellence for the Zululami Clubhouse and SALA Boutique Hotel. They entered the project in the category of Landscape Construction with Design by Others. 

Arthur Cowan of Life Landscapes KZN explains that work on the clubhouse landscape commenced with the installation of large (1000lt) ex open ground trees in the inner courtyard. This was followed by the installation of the central café courtyard, now the Fika Restaurant. 

The broad plant palette consisted mainly of KZN coastal forest species, and lower canopy plant material was made up of both local indigenous and exotic plants. Cowan says that plants used resulted in a landscape of “a calming oasis set within an estate, providing a meeting place where residents can enjoy a meal, relax around the pool or work remotely”. 

Alongside the ramped entrance to the clubhouse, an outdoor grassed amphitheatre space has been provided for live performances, movie nights and relaxation. This landscape feature was done by first shaping, tamping and stabilising the stepped platforms and then deconstructing it, laying geofabric in a flattened S shape to accommodate and hold the soil in place. Instant turf was then installed as the final layer, and Cowan says that the initial impression is one of “a mini rice paddy terrace.” 

As with the surrounding grassed areas, Buffalo grass has been used due to its ability to withstand heavy foot traffic. All landscaped areas have been mulched with locally sourced material. 

On top of the main building, a roof garden has been planted with large-leaved material similar to the ground floor areas, and supplemented with local grassland forbs, succulents and Aloes. This is the only area with an irrigation system, consisting of a manually operated drip system to supplement water needs during the drier KZN winters. The drainage system is a simple cuspated layer on top of the flat-roofed structure, linked to full-bore drains. The soil type used is a fast draining, bark-based medium, mixed with a loamy topsoil. The entire roof area was also mulched to lower evaporation rates. 

The clubhouse landscape incorporates the design ethos of the greater Zululami Estate, and blends seamlessly into the surrounding grassland and coastal forest landforms. 


Rumble says that the client afforded them the opportunity to influence the outdoor aesthetics. “Their trust in us is what I believe allowed the team to work collaboratively to deliver the end product. With clear design intentions you can create beautiful landscapes that are emotive, joyful, visual, restorative, resilient, social and cultural. The outcome is yours to make.” 

Project Team 

Developer: Collins Residential 

Architect: Lisa Rorich Architects 

Landscape Architects: Land Art Studio 

Main Contractor: Slingshot Investments 

Civil Engineers: Sergio Mendes Associates 

Environmental Specialists: EcoCoast 

Landscape Contractor: Life Green Group (KZN) 

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