The Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton, Melbourne is an iconic building that was first constructed for the international exhibition held in 1880. Designed by Architect Joseph Reed of Reed and Barnes, the hall was originally surrounded by an array of annexes, with one of the annexes housing Melbourne’s first aquarium. His grand design was influenced by Rundbogenstil, a round-arched architectural style that combines elements from Byzantine, Romanesque, Lombardic and Italian Renaissance buildings and the design for the dome was influenced by Brunelleschi’s 15th-century cathedral in Florence.Decorative mouldings and architectural features abound. This magnificent building has served the city of Melbourne in many guises.
In 1901, the western annexe was converted to accommodate the Parliament of Victoria. In 1912 the Great Hall was the venue for the first Victorian Motor Exhibition, featuring parts, oils and the latest in imported vehicles. Seven years later the Great Hall was commandeered to be a hospital during the Spanish Influenza pandemic. Home Shows, first held in 1936, were popular with Melburnians, keen to see the latest trends in home and garden design. The Melbourne International Garden Show is still held at the Exhibition building and surrounding gardens annually.
The first exhibitions of the Australian War Memorial were held in one of the annexes and trainee technicians from the Royal Australian Air Force were actually housed in the Great Hall during the Second World War.
Following decades in which the building was used as a venue for charity dances, state receptions, musical pageants, evangelist missions and balls it became dilapidated and neglected with little consideration given to its historical value. In 1985 restoration work commenced and in the 1990s the building came under the care of Museum Victoria. It became World Heritage listed on 1 July 2004, after a rigorous international assessment process by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. As the only 19th century Great Hall to survive largely intact, still being in its original landscape setting, and used as an exhibition and event venue to this day, it is of enormous architectural value to the people of Melbourne.