Designed in collaboration with Urban Solutions

Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi and Robert Sobukwe are among many freedom fighters incarcerated in the Old Fort Prison complex in the very center of Johannesburg’s Inner City. While daily life continued as ‘normal’ all around, inside its high surrounding earth ramparts were the most important leaders of a 400 year struggle for real normality, for justice. The symbolism is unavoidable.

Soon after democracy in 1994, the Old Fort Complex was selected as the location for a new precinct and building to accommodate the country’s first Constitutinal Court. Both the use and the symbolism of the site were to be totally transformed.

In 1998 designworkshop together with Urban Solutions won the international competition to design both projects. The brief for the building had two main elements. It set out the required accommodation requirements and operational relationships. And it communicated how important it was for the building to deeply engage, enable and represent the new Constitutional principles of Freedom, Equality, and Dignity.

We responded with five main strategies. The first is to connect the site into the city by making a new pedestrian movement network across it. The second is to reinforce and activate these routes by wrapping the accommodation around the perimeter of the site to define them, also arranging building functionality from most public on the outside to most private around a central garden.

The third is to make the building of many pieces, like independent buildings of a village, connected by an internal network of routes, porches, patios, courtyards and gardens.

Through a community-based sub-competition, the fourth is to invite anyone, from the biggest cities to the smallest rural villages to design, construct and install key elements of the building, from the main entrance and court chamber doors to gates, ceramic linings, light fittings and carpets.

The final and overarching strategy uses the other four to ensure that the building achieves an appropriate gravitas – while specifically avoiding monumentality – to participate in making a building “of the people, by the people, for the people”.


Constitution Hill, Braamfontein, Johannesburg


Public, Competition, Interior, Office


SAIA Award of Excellence (2006)




94 Florida Road, Durban
4001, South Africa

T +27 (0)31 303 5191
F +27 (0)31 303 5198

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