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Royal Exhibition Building (Australia)

No 1131

1. BASIC DATA State Party:


Name of property: Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton



Melbourne, Victoria

Date received:

31 December 2002

Category of property:

In terms of the categories of cultural property set out in Article 1 of the 1972 World Heritage Convention, this is a site.

Brief description:

The Royal Exhibition Building and its surrounding gardens were used for the great international exhibitions of 1880 and 1888. They now represent ideas promulgated by the international exhibition movement.

2. THE PROPERTY Description

Situated in the heart of Melbourne, the site covers a rectangular block of 26 hectares bounded by four city streets. No formal buffer zone is proposed.

In the centre of the site, on high open ground, is the Royal Exhibition building erected for the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition. To the south and north are formally laid out ‘palace’ gardens, the latter created after the closing of the second Great Exhibition of 1888, held in the same building.

The site thus consists of two elements:

  • Royal Exhibition Building

  • Carlton Gardens

The site is also valued for its:

  • Association with the

movement These are described in turn:



  • Royal Exhibition Building

The Royal Exhibition Building is what is left of a complex of buildings erected for the 1880 Melbourne Great International Exhibition. Unlike many exhibitions, this complex consisted of both permanent and temporary structures. The central Great Hall was considered to be a permanent structure which would continue to function after the exhibition had closed. Cruciform in plan, the Great Hall (now the Royal Exhibition Building) was flanked by two smaller wings, known as the western and


eastern annexes and these were demolished in 1961 and 1979 respectively.

The Royal Exhibition Building is constructed of a mixture of brick and timber, steel and slate. The walls are of cement rendered brick, originally unpainted but subsequently painted. The roof is timber-framed covered with slate and corrugated steel.

The building and grounds were designed by Joseph Reed, of Reed and Barnes architects, as a result of a competition. His scheme combines Gothic and Classical elements and also amalgamates the German Rundbogenstil (round- arched) style with other more familiar motifs from earlier European buildings. It is thus an amalgam of elements from Byzantine, Romanesque, Lombardic and Italian Renaissance buildings.

Like earlier great exhibition buildings, it combined religious and secular elements. In form it was a cross between a banqueting hall and a church, with aisles, naves, transepts, and clerestory and viewing galleries at high level.

Its main door, surrounded by a massive portico in the form of a triumphal arch, faces south towards the city. Rising above the building, a huge dome mounted on an octagonal drum is a highly visible feature of the city skyline. The platform base of the dome originally formed a public viewing area.

Each elevation consists of a central porch flanked by regular bays and terminated by corner pavilions with mansard roofs. The bays either side of the portals rise over three levels. The southern elevation is the most elaborate with the bays decorated with pilasters, aedicules and heavy cornices surmounted by scrolled discs.

The east and west elevation are smaller in scale and have less decoration.

Inside, the tall central space has a raked ceiling flanked by lower aisles with mezzanine galleries over. A clerestory runs the length of the ‘nave’. The roof system of timber trusses connected by a metal tie rod, embellished with timber fretwork in imitation of four-centred arches and pendants, is similar to that used for the 1862 London Exhibition building. The massive central dome, rising 68 m above the floor and 18 m in diameter, is supported on four round-headed arches and arched pendentives.

Much of the interior was decorated to provide a background for the exhibits. The original decoration was carried out by John Mather. He used a combination of aesthetic sunflowers, lilies, allegorical images promoting arts, science, industry and agriculture, and the coats of arms of exhibiting nations.

Mather's scheme was overprinted for the second great exhibition by John Clay Beeler. This second scheme was ‘florid and embellished’ using strong colours of red, blue and gold. It had similar messages of Empire, glory and improvement.

In 1901 the building was again repainted this time for the opening of the first Commonwealth Parliament. The artist was John Ross Anderson. He chose sombre colours of browns, reds and greens contained improving mottoes and,







government – the whole concept deriving much from

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