The Old Fort at Constitution Hill, a National Heritage Site in Johannesburg, is undergoing a massive visitor experience upgrade which will be incorporating technology and innovative design to enhance the history-rich experience for visitors.

Doors will reopen on November 12, welcoming visitors to an experience that explores some of South Africa’s most poignant history using cutting-edge technology and interactions with various displays.

"The Old Fort experience is designed to be self-guided and would be more exploratory that way, or with the assistance of a tour guide, can be a shorter visit for those who have a long list of activities on their vacation," says Kirsten Wilkins, Experience Architect at Formula D – the interactive exhibit design firm commissioned to lead the upgrade. "In addition to signage and introductory information in various areas, Formula D has designed an interactive Explorer Game where visitors are encouraged to find hidden plaques in each portion of the site and in so doing move across all the exhibitions with an exploring and curious mind."

Wilkins explains: “The Old Fort exhibition has a number of elements designed to be engaging across the spectrum of age and understanding. We were cognisant that the content and narrative of a prison environment could be very intense for younger visitors, and have designed interaction with this in mind. Most notably, on the ramparts we have a working heliograph technology allowing visitors to signal and send Morse code messages from one side of the fort to the other. Additionally, at 13h00 every day, visitors can expect the firing of a replica Howitzer canon from the North Western Rampart – quite an experience in the centre of urban Johannesburg. Within the Fort itself, the stories of those imprisoned can be experienced at a much more personal detail within the cell block itself. Sophisticated ear pieces tell the stories of the characters both criminal and perceived as criminal by the authorities of the time. In particular, the ‘ghost’ of Joe Slovo walking within his cell, brings to life the powerful stature of the man he was, with subtle and sublime technology, speaking when prompted by visitors to this austere room. The use of light and shadow have been deployed to add dramatic effect throughout and ask the visitor to imagine beyond the walk through with imagined detail suited to their age and understanding of that is an intense place of history and hardship.”

CEO of Formula D, Michael Wolf, comments: “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.”

Wilkins concludes: “This exhibition has a beauty in that rather than being a museum that houses artefacts, the building itself was considered as the artefact within which the stories of those who have walked the halls or whose bodies have cowered in cells has been told. The deployment of a robust steelwork palate with a measured approach to lighting and experience technology that honours this site elevates the Old Fort exhibition to the highest levels. Our intention was not to take away from the building: its peeled paint, boot scuffed, echoed shadow character. With technology, research and a measured hand, we are taking visitors to the centre of the city where its perpetrators were held to account.”