World Heritage Places - Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens - World Heritage values


Outstanding Heritage Values for the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens

The Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens, Melbourne were inscribed on the World Heritage List against the cultural criterion listed below:

Exhibit an important interchange of human values over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town planning or landscape design.

World Heritage Values of the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens

The Royal Exhibition Building, in its original setting of the Carlton Gardens, is an outstanding surviving manifestation of the international exhibition movement of the 19th century and early 20th century. This movement both reflected and promoted the developments in technology and the associated great international growth in trade and industrialisation that occurred in the later part of the 19th century, and laid the foundations of modernism and the economic structures of the 20th century.

The Royal Exhibition Building, a rare and outstanding example of a Great Hall that exhibited manufactured goods and technologies from a significant international exhibition, stands as an exceptional testimony to this interchange of human values and developments in technology and industrialisation that were fundamental to the international exhibition movement.

The international exhibition phenomenon spread through Europe and much of the world from the middle of the 19th century. In addition to the practical role of promoting trade and exchange of developments in technology, the international exhibitions were designed to showcase the achievements of the 19th century industrial age and the benefits of being part of the new international economy. In effect, the international exhibitions were the 'shop front' of the Industrial Revolution.

The international exhibitions provided an early opportunity for the mass international exchange of technological developments and ideas that would have a dramatic effect on economic, social and cultural life. Many exhibitions were held in the United States and Europe; others, reflecting the international reach of the movement and the values it represented, were held in colonies and emerging nations in Asia, Australasia, Central America, South America, the Caribbean and Africa. Progress, industrialisation and a sense of "brotherhood" were all linked (Briggs 2002: 60)

The international exhibition movement, typified by the Royal Exhibition Building, also exhibited the interchange of values relating to nationalism and progress. While international exhibitions were an opportunity for colonies or nations to demonstrate to the world their achievements in the science and arts, and their economic power, they were also venues for the presentation of social and cultural values, such as personal and national industry, which were seen to be part of a universal progress that technology could provide. The Royal Exhibition Building represents these concepts of nationalistic pride and competition on the one hand, and the perceptions of utopian ideals and internationalism on the other.

Education and its connection to scientific, cultural and technological development was another value being promoted. The international exhibitions were both market places and centres of learning: many had explicit educational purposes (Briggs 2002: 67). Each exhibition event celebrated humanity's innate curiosity about the world, ingenuity and belief in the family of nations reaping the benefits of scientific and cultural progress. The exhibition movement reflected the nineteenth century's passionate interest in the acquisition of knowledge and using it for the betterment of mankind. "Industry is a means and not an end" (Huxley 1881 in Johnson 1964: 357). These beliefs and aspirations were implicit in the selection of material culture on display. Huge numbers of exhibition visitors embraced these messages and shared them upon their return home.

Ideas and values were disseminated through the display and promotion of developments in industrial technology, manufactured goods, the arts and cultural tableaux. A key value was the utopian concept of civilising progress through technological advancement (Pearson & Marshall 2002: 34). The industrial revolution was perceived in the nineteenth century, as stated by Samuel Smiles, to enable 'the betterment of the species' (Briggs 1983: 190).

The significance of the Royal Exhibition Building against this criterion relates to it being a symbolic representation of the central and catalytic role of the international exhibition movement in fostering the development and adoption of industrialisation and new technologies throughout the world, and the associated social and cultural values and ideas that were transmitted to societies in a process of internationalisation. This is described more fully below.

The International Exhibition Movement and technological progress

The international exhibition movement was a product of the Industrial Revolution, a phenomenon that originated in Great Britain and which, by the end of the nineteenth century, had spread throughout the world. Industrialisation was a process that fundamentally transformed agrarian economies and created the world's first industrial societies (Meredith and Dyster 1999: 27). It was the foundation of the modern world and marked the most extensive economic and social change the world had seen.

The Industrial Revolution saw the number of manufactured objects in circulation within countries increase dramatically. These new goods were produced through a reorganisation of production, namely that of machine production in factories using inanimate sources of mechanised power. These changes transformed economy and society.

The impact on all aspects of society was profound, perhaps most obviously in the material wealth industrialisation engendered, though the distribution of the material benefits of the revolution was far from equal within societies (Meredith and Dyster 1999: 27-28). An extensive international economy emerged during the nineteenth century, being based on the expansion of world trade, capital flows, migration, communications and business (Meredith and Dyster 1999: 28).

In this rapidly changing world, the role of international exhibitions was to showcase globally the advance of technological progress, among other things. Four developments dictated the shape of international exhibitions and all of them related to the Industrial Revolution - mass production, prefabrication, mass communications and urbanisation (Greenhalgh 1988: 142). The focus of the international exhibition movement was industrial trade and the upward progress of industrial civilization (Allwood 1977: 8).

International exhibitions introduced to large audiences many products that we, in our modern society, now take for granted. They included the elevator (Dublin 1853), the sewing machine, silver electroplating and aluminium (Paris 1855), the calculating machine (London 1862), telegraphy and innovations in steel production, (Paris 1867), the telephone (Philadelphia 1876), outdoor electric lighting, the typewriter and the phonograph (Paris 1878), the gas-powered automobile (Paris 1889), motion pictures (Paris 1900), controlled flight and the wireless telegraph (St Louis 1904) and Kodachrome photographs (San Francisco 1915) (World's Fairs Expos Q&A website, 22 July 2002; Findling and Pelle 1990: 19, 39, 68).

Demonstrating the spread of industrial and technological progress via the exhibitions, the Melbourne 1888 International Exhibition was the first to install electrical lighting to enable the exhibition to be opened at night (Dunstan 1996: 200), following on from the displays of electricity as a new invention at previous international exhibitions such as the 1878 Paris Exposition. International exhibitions gave form and substance to the meaning of modernity (Rydell and Gwinn 1994: 8) and they marked the birth of consumer society (Benedict 1983: 2).

The Royal Exhibition Building as a symbol of the International Exhibition Movement

The international exhibition movement of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was significant for its role in the global dissemination of goods, technologies, values and ideas, setting trends that became the foundations for today's modern world. Despite this, few material remains of the era survive. Each exhibition was temporary. Most buildings were not designed to remain once the exhibition came to an end. The garden ornamentation, which formed the settings of many of the exhibition buildings, was often ephemeral and few examples of the parkland setting of the buildings have survived.

Of the 70 exhibitions calling themselves 'international' that were held between 1851 and 1915, nine major exhibitions have some buildings that have survived that are also in-situ (Philadelphia 1876, Melbourne 1880 and 1888, Chicago 1893, Paris 1889 and 1900, Glasgow 1901, St Louis 1904, San Francisco 1915). Of these buildings, three (the Eiffel Tower, Paris 1889 and the Petit Palais and the Grand Palais, Paris 1900) are inscribed on the World Heritage List (as part of the 'Paris, Banks of the Seine' property inscribed 1991).

The Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne is the only surviving 'Palace of Industry' Great Hall from a significant international exhibition of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Constructed in 1880, it is an enduring monument to the international exhibition phenomenon. The building was the centrepiece of the Palace of Industry at the Melbourne International Exhibitions of 1880 and 1888, and no comparable examples of a Palace of Industry exhibition hall remain from any of the important international exhibitions of the period under consideration.

The Royal Exhibition Building has outstanding universal value because it symbolises the central purpose of the international exhibition movement the showcasing of industrial and technological progress, and the significant, global interchange of human values and ideas that took place during these events. The technologies, values and ideas associated with this movement had lasting impacts on the development of modern society.

Most of this building survives in its original form, in its original, purpose-designed parkland setting of the Carlton Gardens, and therefore retains a high level of authenticity. In terms of continuity of function, the Royal Exhibition Building has been used as a general exhibition hall since its construction, through to the present day. This is unusual for surviving international exhibition buildings in other parts of the world, that are either no longer used as exhibition halls or have a very specialised display function as art galleries, for example. The authenticity of the building and gardens has ensured its association with the movement remains substantial (Pearson & Marshall 2002: 35). In the words of Emeritus Professor Asa Briggs, the Royal Exhibition Building is one that has caught the essence of the international exhibition era (Briggs 2002:14).