The Old Fort on the Constitution Hill precinct is undergoing a massive visitor experience upgrade that uses technology and innovative design to showcase a pertinent part of South Africa’s history and journey to democracy. 

Formerly known as the Johannesburg Jail, the Old Fort housed white male political and common law prisoners, as well as a number of prominent political inmates including South African Communist Party leader, Joe Slovo and former president Nelson Mandela – The Fort’s only black prisoner, who was deemed too influential to be housed with black prisoners at the Awaiting Trial Block.

Today, the National Heritage Site attracts visitors from all over the world, who come to experience first-hand the former “site of incarceration and abuse”, which ceased to operate in 1983, a century after it was built. As one of the country’s main tourist attractions, telling its countless stories well for local and international guests to relate and understand the role it played in the country’s road to democracy remains a fundamental requirement.

To ensure the Old Fort remains attractive to the public, and to enhance its rich heritage innovatively, award winning interactive exhibit design firm, Formula D has been commissioned to lead the visitor experience upgrade. The company is known for making history accessible and fun using interactive technologies and game design. Formula D CEO, Michael Wolf is confident that the new developments will make the Old Fort more attractive to visitors, specifically families and the youth.

He says the upgrade will provide visitors with a curious, self-guided experience; an opportunity to engage physically with the history of the site through audio visual storytelling, game like activities, and the punctuated use of cutting edge technology, like a hologram of Joe Slovo, bringing him back to life in a cell.

But the upgrade has not come without challenges. Wolf says creating an environment that children and families could really appreciate and enjoy, as well as designing attractions that appeal to a diverse group of local and international guests were two of their biggest challenges.

“Many museums in South Africa struggle to get feet through the door, because their traditional fashion of presenting content doesn’t work for their audiences anymore. Formula D uses technology, good storytelling, and asks questions and encourages the audience to build their own opinions. At the Old Fort, our intention is to unlock the site’s history in manners that encourage critical thinking for visitors of various age groups and educational backgrounds”, Wolf says.

The Old Fort’s new visitor experience is expected to open later in the year.


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