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If the site had been successfully inscribed some years ago, it would have been difficult to justify an intervention of this magnitude. On the positive side, it could be argued that the new Museum adds to the vitality of the site. However in terms of authenticity of the whole ensemble, the new building detracts from the setting of the Royal Exhibition building and removes part of the north garden.


Equally importantly the new building impinges in the integrity of the site. If the value of the site is connected to the way the layout in Melbourne reflect the general ‘form’ of great exhibitions around the world, then undoubtedly a part of that form has been lost with the building of the large new Museum.

Comparative evaluation

The key question is whether the Royal Exhibition Building and associated gardens is outstanding by virtue of the way its represents the great exhibition movement. What needs discussing is whether its form is a key exemplar of the movement and how intact that form still is. Consideration also needs to be given as to whether what survives is an exemplar in terms of the aims of the great exhibition movement.

The great exhibition movement espoused innovation and change: exhibitions were set up to show skills, craftsmanship and the new limits of technology. In many exhibitions, the structures of the buildings themselves were part of the display, in showing how innovative technology could be stretched to the limits. The Crystal Palace in London was one the largest cast iron and glass structures ever assembled, the Eiffel Tower in Paris one of the tallest cast iron structures: both were built to showcase technology. On the other hand the Royal Exhibition Building was more cautious in its approach. The construction mainly of brick and timber was not in itself innovative. The architecture is pleasant but not outstanding and it is following rather than setting trends.

Great exhibitions aimed to be innovative and to give meaning to modernity. They displayed technological invention and achievement and celebrated diversity and industry. They also showed the ability of peoples to understand the extent and variety of the world’s resources

  • both natural and man-made – through classification

systems. In many cases the great exhibition buildings were afterwards used to set up museums for either technology or arts – and that purpose was woven into the exhibition aims. Thus the purposes of the exhibitions were carried forward.

The Royal Exhibition Building was used after the second exhibition as an exhibition forum until the building became part of the parliament in 1901. It is only in the last ten years or so that is has re-gained its use as an exhibition centre.

The nomination document gave an analysis of surviving great exhibition buildings. Although a considerable number survive such as the Eiffel Tower, Petit and Grand Palais in Paris, the Glasgow Fine Arts Building, the Memorial Hall in Philadelphia, the Palace of Fine Arts in Chicago, and the Palace of Fine Arts, St. Louis, none of these structures were built as a Hall of Industry. [Since the nomination was written the complex at Santiago in Chile


has been identified and more information about this has been sought.]

All apart from the Eiffel Tower were used to display fine arts. If one accepts that the primary focus of the great exhibitions was the Great Hall of Industry, then the only site to have retained its building is Melbourne. However if one is looking for buildings to represent the Great Exhibition movement and its ideals, there are other contenders.

Outstanding universal value Evaluation of criteria:

The property is nominated on the basis of criteria ii, iv and vi.

4. ICOMOS RECOMMENDATIONS Recommendation for the future

There is no doubt that this site is of national significance and one that is of value to the people of Victoria. The way it is looked after reflects the value with which it is held. It is however more difficult to justify its outstanding universal value.

The association of the complex with the Great Exhibition movement is very strong, as its scarcity value. However the integrity of the site has been compromised by the introduction of a large new museum. Secondly the quality of the exhibition building cannot be said to reflect the highest quality the great exhibition movement produced not its overall ideals.

The building could perhaps be considered as a particularly Australian response to the Great Exhibition movement, or to have significance as an exemplar of the Great Exhibition movement in the Australians, or to have been particularly influential in generating response to industry and the ideals of the exhibition movement through interchange of ideas in areas comparatively remote from the main centres of the industrial revolution. But these aspects were not analysed in the nomination dossier.

Recommendation with respect to inscription

That the nomination be deferred in order to allow the State Party to explore further the cultural qualities of the overall site and to consider other potential outstanding universal value, as well as questions of authenticity and integrity. This would allow more research to be undertaken which could consider:

  • o

    Comparative analysis of extant exhibition complexes, their qualities and significances and their influence in terms of exchanges of ideas related to technological innovation and change.

    • o

      The authenticity and integrity of Carlton Gardens as a part of the overall exhibition site.

ICOMOS, March 2004

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