The Royal Exhibition Building and its surrounding Carlton Gardens were designed for the great international exhibitions of 1880 and 1888 in Melbourne. The building and grounds were designed by Joseph Reed. The building is constructed of brick and timber, steel and slate. It combines elements from the Byzantine, Romanesque, Lombardic and Italian Renaissance styles. The property is typical of the international exhibition movement which saw over 50 exhibitions staged between 1851 and 1915 in venues including Paris, New York, Vienna, Calcutta, Kingston (Jamaica) and Santiago (Chile). All shared a common theme and aims: to chart material and moral progress through displays of industry from all nations.
Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens
© Silvan Rehfeld
Justification for Inscription
Criterion (ii): The Royal Exhibition Building and the surrounding Carlton Gardens, as the main extant survivors of a Palace of Industry and its setting, together reflect the global influence of the international exhibition movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The movement showcased technological innovation and change, which helped promote a rapid increase in industrialisation and international trade through the exchange of knowledge and ideas.
The Royal Exhibition Building and the surrounding Carlton Gardens, as the main extant survivors of a Palace of Industry and its setting, together reflect the global influence of the international exhibition movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The movement showcased technological innovation and change, which helped promote a rapid increase in industrialization and international trade through the exchange of knowledge and ideas.
The complex was designed for the great international exhibitions of 1880 and 1888 in Melbourne. The building, designed by Joseph Reed, is constructed of brick and timber, steel and slate; it combines elements from the Byzantine, Romanesque, Lombardic and Italian Renaissance styles. The property is typical of the international exhibition movement which saw over 50 expositions staged between 1851 and 1915 in venues including Paris, New York, Vienna, Calcutta, Kingston (Jamaica) and Santiago (Chile). All shared a common theme and aims: to chart material and moral progress through displays of industry from all nations.
The scale and grandeur of the building reflects the values and aspirations attached to industrialization and its international face. The Building boasts many of the important features that made the expositions so dramatic and effective, including a dome, a great hall, giant entry portals, versatile display areas, axial planning, and complementary gardens and viewing areas. Unlike many international exhibitions, the Building was conceived as a permanent structure that would have a future role in the cultural activities of the growing city of Melbourne.
Despite the great impact of the international exhibition movement worldwide and the impressive nature of the many buildings designed and built to hold these displays, few remain. Even fewer retain their authenticity in terms of original location and condition. The Royal Exhibition Building, in its original setting of the Carlton Gardens, is one of the rare survivors. It has added rarity as the only substantially intact example in the world of a Great Hall from a major international exhibition.
Carlton Gardens are in two parts: an axial garden layout in the southern part of the site and a northern garden that was landscaped after the close of the two great 19th century exhibitions. Bounded by Victoria, Rathdowne, Carlton and Nicholson Streets at the edge of Melbourne's city centre, the entire block remains intact as originally designated by the Victorian Parliament in 1878. During the 1880 and 1888 international exhibitions the southern portion of the garden became a pleasure garden, with many attractions. The South Carlton Gardens, as it is now known, continues to be used for parkland and exhibition purposes. The southern entrance to the building, on the city side, is the apex of the design. A level promenade was created along the front of the building, and a semi-circular space has as its centrepiece an ornate fountain. A ceremonial approach is provided by a 24 m wide avenue, and two other paths form a radiating axis from the fountain. In 1888 another fountain, the Westgarth Fountain, was added.
The aesthetic significance of the Carlton Gardens lies in its representation of the 19th-century Gardenesque style. This includes parterre garden beds, significant avenues including the southern carriage drive and Grande Allée, the path system, specimens and clusters of trees, two small lakes and three fountains. The formal ornamental palace garden, which was the context for the Great Hall of the Palace of Industry, is substantially intact. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
The history of the buildings and gardens is closely linked to the history and development of the international exhibition movement – a phenomena that spread across all continents. Although the first great exhibition took place in 1851, in the Crystal Palace in London, the idea of celebrating manufactured goods had been in being for almost a century, with national exhibitions in England then France and elsewhere in Europe.
The difference between these small celebrations and promotions and the great exhibitions that followed was of scale and classification. The great exhibition movement, as it came to be known, espoused the 19th century passion for discovery and creation, but above all for classification. Classification – as exemplified in museums and botanical collections – demonstrated man’s control over his surroundings. Great exhibitions were a way of both celebrating the industry that emerged from the Industrial Revolution, and showing man’s domination over it in an international context.
Over 50 exhibitions were held between 1851 and 1915, each different yet sharing common theme and aims – to chart material and moral progress within a world context, through displaying the industry of all nations. Venues included Paris, New York, Vienna, Calcutta, Kingston, Jamaica and Santiago, Chile. Most had display ‘palaces’ specially constructed, often from manufactured iron components stretching technology to the limit.
By the 1870s a form for the overall layout had come to be established which consisted of clusters of history-domes, national pavilions and viewing platforms surrounding a ‘Palace of Industry’ all set within landscape grounds. And a network of contacts has been set up with ‘commissioners’ observing and suggesting improvements for the next event.
By around 1900 the slowing of national economies, combined with peoples’ realisation that manufacturing did not always improve the quality of life, led, outside the United States, to exhibitions begun to lose their appeal.
The Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne is thus an example from the mid-point of the movement. It did not appear out of nowhere: a first small exhibition building had been built in 1854, and others followed larger in scale, usually precursors to international exhibitions elsewhere. The two international exhibitions of 1880 and 1888 took place at a time when Melbourne was booming.
Unlike many other exhibition buildings, Melbourne’s has survived still on its original plot and surrounded by gardens. However there have been significant changes to the extended complex of buildings and gardens. The east and west annexes of the exhibition building were removed in the 1960s and 1970s (one of the halls being reconstructed off-site as a tram museum). The major recent change has been the building of the new Melbourne Museum in the north garden.
The uses of the building have been diverse since it was built. Until 1901 it was used for exhibitions. It then became part of the parliament until 1919 when it was used a fever hospital during the First World War. Between then and 1975 it served as stores and offices, and as troop accommodation and as a ballroom. The new direction for the building started in 1975 when was officially listed on the Register of the National Estate.
The adjective Royal was added to the building in 1980. Source: Advisory Body Evaluation