When the ancient Rustaq fort in Oman was recently restored to its original condition, it caught the eye of architect Saud al Sarji, who designs buildings for the government of Oman in the capital city of Muscat. A large wall mural of the famous fort, he felt, would make the perfect architectural accent for the government, military and public facilities that he designs.
As the second oldest historic fort in Oman, the Rustaq Fort is an important landmark for this stable, oil-rich country that is home to a US naval base strategically located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf.
Saud al Sarji wanted these murals to be made of the highest-quality, most durable material possible. He knew that the fort itself had lasted centuries because it was made of stone, and the thought occurred to him: why not make the mural out of long-lasting marble stone that evoked the sandstone walls of the fort itself?
Creating such an intricate mural out of stone would have been an impossibility just 30 years ago, but with the advent of waterjet technology in the 1980s, brittle materials such as stone and marble can now be cut into pieces as small as 1/8” with the precision of a laser.
Yet Saud al Sarji knew that choosing the right waterjet company would make all the difference, as he wanted the finished product to represent the beauty and grandeur of the ancient fort itself.
“I found out that Creative Edge was creating luxury floors and murals for the wealthiest clients in the world, and that gave me confidence that they would have the skills to turn the photograph of the fort into a work of art,” says al Sarji.
He commissioned a single mural of 7 X10 feet in 3/8”-thick marble stone, with the understanding that it would be reproduced many times for subsequent buildings.
Painting in Stone
“Basically, we’re painting in stone,” says Harri Aalto, co-founder and head designer at Creative Edge. A sculptor and fine artist who turned his talent to waterjet design 25 years ago.
Using a tattered 3X5” color photo of the fort as his only reference, Aalto first drew the fort on his Waucon computer tablet using a stylus. At that point, the drawing looked like a paint-by-number painting. Then he “colored” in each shape using his computer palette of 52 marbles and limestones.
“I had to find new colors of marble that made the walls of the fort look like ancient sandstone quarried in the desert,” says Aalto. The final design involved over 50 pieces and 15 stones, including Thassos, Saffron gold, San Laurent, Indus gold, Emperador dark, Giallo realle, Café Rosita from Greece, Italy, Spain, and Egypt. With the design approved, the production process began.
Aalto sent his design to the autocad team at Creative Edge, who converted it to a computerized program and sent it to one of the 14 waterjet machines in Creative Edge’s busy 125,000-square-foot workshop. As each piece was cut by the waterjet machine, the assembly team numbered it and placed it face down on a full-size mylar map of the mural, matching the shape and number on the stone with the shape and number on the sheet.
Preassembly Using Bostik Dimension™ RapidCure™ Grout
At this point the smaller pieces of the painting were pre-assembled into 2-foot sections. An epoxy-based backing material was sprayed over the back to hold the pieces together. Each of these bigger pre-assembly sections was numbered with a new number. Creative Edge workers then applied the grout between each piece in the larger preassembly sections, using Bostik’s Dimension™ RapidCure™ grout.
“We started using Bostik grouts only three or four months ago,” says Aalto. “We found it works beautifully on stones that have a crystalline structure, such as marble and precious stones. With its embedded glass beads, light is reflected to such a degree that the grout joints, which are thin to begin with, become almost invisible. The joint then visually becomes part of the bright, polished stone.”
Aalto had known that that the Dimension™ RapidCure™ grout was ideal for working with glass tiles in both large format and tiny mosaics, as it “gives even more life” to the material, continually enhancing the tile as light sources move. “But we had no idea it would work so well with some of the most beautiful stone materials nature has to offer,” says Aalto. “Finding that out was a pleasant surprise, to say the least.”
While Creative Edge is known for their precision work, leaving a tiny gap between the stones, Aalto says, “Even if there’s a small gap, this Dimension™ RapidCure™ grout makes it look like no gap at all. It made the stone look like it was totally amalgamated.”
Shipping and Installation
The last step before shipping the mural to Oman was to assemble all of the sections on the floor as a completed mural.
“At this point we did a final quality control check,” says Aalto. The inspection completed, the Creative Edge team shrink-wrapped each pre-assembled section and packaged it in cardboard. The sections were stacked vertically in sturdy aluminum munitions crates instead of being laid flat, to protect the marble from breakage.
To assist the installation team in Oman, drawings and diagrams were included in the crate, complete with the full-size map with each section numbered.
“Installation is simple, a bit like assembling a puzzle,” says Aalto. “And of course Creative Edge is available to assist throughout the installation process.”
Creative Edge included a container of the Bostik Dimension™ RapidCure™ grout in the shipping container, so the installer in Oman could use the same transparent grout to fuse the sub-assembled pieces together.
“I think the contractor will be pleased with the Bostik grout,” says Aalto, “Because it is easy to use just by following the instructions on the package, and it’s easy to clean off the stone, leaving behind only a beautiful effect.
“On top of that,” Aalto concludes, “it is extremely durable and has incredible bonding strength. We are using it in all our mural work, and will continue to do so in the future.”