World Heritage Sites: Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens Case Study

Description and Key Features

The Royal Exhibition property and Carlton Gardens is situated in Melbourne Australia and it covers an area of 26 hectares. At the centre is the Royal Exhibition building which is constructed using bricks, timber, steel and slate. Designed by Joseph Reeds of Reeds and Barnes Architects, the building and grounds have gothic and classical elements together with the German round-arched style. It has motifs from early European buildings combining secular and religious elements (Jokilehto 2008). As a reflection of its religious values, the building assumes the shape of a crucifix in accordance with the Christian faith. It has two elevations; the south and the north. The southern elevation has a large central porch with a large round-arched semi-circular opening. This is a feature originating from the Crystal Palace in London. It terminates in projecting pavilions with rounded corners. The northern elevation has a projecting transept and a porch but most of its features are similar to those of the southern elevation. The eastern and western sides of the building are symmetrical and terminate with square, cornered pavilions. In spite of this, they share most of the features with the southern and northern parts of the building (UNEP 2004).

The original decor was exclusively done by John Mather using images that promoted art, science, agriculture and aesthetic flowers (Yule 2007). The second theme by John Clay Beeler used strong colours like red, gold and blue but with the same message of empire, glory and improvement. John Ross Anderson did the third repainting in 1901 using brown, red and green colours (Wells 2006).

The Carlton Garden was added to host the 1888 great exhibition. It reflects inputs from horticulturalist William Sangster and surrounds the building on all sides. The southern end is used as pleasure gardens. Here, there used to be exotic and native oak trees together with a flower bed planted in a formal symmetrical layout pattern (Gonzales et al. 2008). Some of the trees still stand today but the railings, fountains and seats are absent (Pedersen 2008). The garden and the fountains are surrounded by a cast iron fence. The largest fountain known as the Hochgurtel is found in the southern pathway (Jules 2008).

Criteria for Selecting World Heritage Sites

The enacted Article One of the world heritage convention is made up of three clauses whose provisions were met when selecting this property as a world heritage site. These clauses include criteria (ii), (iv) and (vi). In the first clause, the article describes the importance of human values as well as the cultural aspects modified using spectacular designs. Additionally, the exhibition building is considered by the clause as the initial setting for the Carlton gardens. There is an interchange between human values which the Royal Exhibition Building together with the Carlton gardens depicts through culture, architecture and technology. For instance, architecture is evidenced through the outstanding structure of the building while culture is shown through the use of European aesthetic decorations as discussed above.

The third criterion is not met by the building but the fourth is justified given that the building can be described as outstanding in many ways. It depicts a transition in a period known as the Exhibition Movement (Pedersen 2008). The building itself is a representation of various forms of art and applications of technology. People were able to see the differences between their culture and those of others.

Criterion six is also met where the building clearly represents the ideas and ways of life of people in the 19th century. During this period, there were technological innovations and industrialisation was at its highest. Trade was also an aspect of this society. The building fuelled international trade and used various forms of technology such as scales to come up with magnificent and straight structures. Since people who came for the exhibitions were drawn from different regions, human interaction was enhanced and this is another feature of the exhibition movement.

The positive effects of industrialisation can also be seen through the accurate scales with which the building was developed (Jules 2008). This means that industrialisation spurred the development of scales and people could now construct scaled buildings. This is for example the dome and giant entry portals which could have been impossible to construct in the past.

Table 1: Criteria for World Heritage Sites and Carlton Royal Exhibition and Garden.

Criterion How Royal Exhibition Satisfies the Criterion
Criterion two
The site should represent an interchange between human values.
The building has been appraised and proved to be a representation of art from different cultures through the paintings and drawings on it.
Criterion four
The site must be of outstanding value from a historical and art point of view.
It is evident that the architecture is outstanding. It has priceless pieces of art and outstanding architectural designs. The gardens are also outstanding
Criterion Six
The site must represent an important historical event.
The lives of people in that century are represented in the building. The most important aspect of the building is its representation of the exhibition movement through industrial and architectural developments. The architecture therein represents the properties classified as world heritage under laws.

How the Site’s Inscription Met Procedural Requirements of that Time

Some of the procedures were met while others were not as far as the history of the site is concerned (especially in the 19th century). To be inscribed in the World Heritage list, the Royal Exhibition Building underwent several tests and vetting procedures. The first thing was the restoration and conservation of the building. The first major structural restoration was in 1995 when a large swathe of the interior decor was restored to its original state. In the 1980s, there were changes on service systems in a bid to bring them up to date. From the late 1990s to early 2001, the facades, windows, doors, the east roof and the painting specifically on the exterior were restored. Minor restorations were carried out on the gardens (Meyers 2012).

To enhance its authenticity as per the provisions of ICOMOS, there were several provisions as well as recommendations that were stipulated and put in place to meet the evaluation criteria. The evaluation process includes conservation, comparative evaluation, authenticity and integrity.

The inscription based on the above analysis provided for the exploration of more cultural aspects of the property as well as globally significant values. The process was initiated through the use of comparative analysis where the aspects of integrity and authenticity were put into consideration. This was to promote the exhibition movement in Australia.

As part of the steps to ensure that the Royal Exhibition Building becomes listed as a World Heritage site, the Australian government tried to make use of it. This was through exhibitions and even at one point, making the building the site for ballroom dance among other activities. This way, the building remained active at least for a certain period of time (Piggott 2004).

The structures were not mere buildings but were exhibitions in themselves. As discussed earlier, the building was made of brick and timber which was not innovative when compared to other exhibition buildings of the time such as the Eiffel Tower which were made of cast iron (Meyers 2012).

Buildings meant to depict the exhibition movement were to be under the custody of the state. However, the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens are in the Commonwealth Government Register which means that the state has no direct control over them (Jokilehto 2008).

The Time Table

According to ICOMOS, three frameworks are used in analysing a site to be included in the world heritage list. These are typological, chronological and thematic frameworks. The thematic framework involves the determination of the value and meaning of the property and its main themes. This is then followed by a chronological analysis of events that the property has gone through. The last framework is typology. Here, the site is classified as a monument, a site or an ensemble. This was developed as a future action plan in 2005.

The authenticity of the Royal Exhibition Building as a world heritage site has over the years been questioned. The above changes were to a great extent an important factor in determining the authenticity of this piece of art. For instance, with the use of the three frameworks, the criteria was changed or improved making it even more difficult to decide whether or not to include the Royal Exhibition Building in the world heritage list.

There have also been changes on the second criterion which have raised controversy. The first edition only recognised the site as having a significant influence on some cultural event in the world. The terms ‘human culture’ and ‘technology’ were added in 1994 and 1995 respectively. At this point, it should be noted that the change in the wording has not been justified. Unlike the first criterion, the second criterion is regarded as very important and it is applied on every piece of art or site. A lot of changes have also been carried out on the other criteria to the extent that questions keep arising on whether the world heritage list is genuine or not.

The criteria are looked at differently by both ICOMOS and World Heritage committees. With all the changes made, ICOMOS regularly updates its list of important and artistic sites. The criterion that is mostly used in determining what makes it to the heritage list is criterion number four which according to ICOMOS is the most important.

Discrepancies are not only found on the criteria suggested by ICOMOS but also on other factors. In most cases, the advisory goes along with the suggestions made by ICOMOS but this is always not the case. This has led to problems in analysing the final list of artistic pieces to be nominated as World Heritage sites. In such a case, there must be a winner and a loser which makes the process even more difficult.

The question still remains on how buildings and pieces of art are nominated. ICOMOS suggests that comparisons should be made on how well a piece satisfies a particular criterion. Changes in terms of time and substance are used in cases where alterations have been made on the outlook criterion. If the site meets most of the requirements, its chances of making it to the World Heritage list are increased. A site or building will not be nominated if it does not meet the requirements of authenticity and integrity. However, redefinition and re-elaboration of the proposal may change this ruling.

It is important to look at the timeline of this heritage site as far as its inscription to the world heritage list is concerned. The foundation stone was laid by George Bowen in 1879. In 1880, the building was completed with the aim of hosting the Melbourne International Exhibition (Pedersen 2008). In conjunction with the above exhibition, the Royal Exhibition building hosted the Centennial Exhibition in 1888. In 1901, the building hosted the opening of the Australian Parliament after which it housed the Victorian Parliament for 26 years.

It was used as a venue for regular weekly dances between 1940 and 1950. This was in an effort to keep the building active as a way of conserving it as required by ICOMOS. In 1948 it was almost demolished by the City Council of Melbourne. It is also noted that the Melbourne aquarium which occupied a section of the property was destroyed by fire. This was in the year 1953. Three years down the line (in 1956), the building was the site for the Summer Olympics. Several games including basketball and weightlifting were staged here. From the late 1950’s, the building housed several offices and stores. In the 1960’s and 1970’s high school matriculation was held here.

In1996, Jeff Kennet (the premier of Victoria) advised that a state museum should be built adjacent to this building. This was opposed by Victorian State Labour Party and the local community. In 1997 and 1998, a large portion of the building which was destroyed was repaired and restored. The listing was however not implemented until the year 1999 when the Victorian State Labour Party won the elections. This made the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens the first in Australia to be listed as a world heritage site.

Operational Guidelines’ Procedural and Definitional Requirements: How do they Seek to Capture the Spirit of UNESCO’s Constitution and World Heritage Convention?

The 2011 operational guidelines describe a national heritage as “one that has an outstanding universal value from an aesthetic or scientific point of view” (Meyers 2012, p. 344). This description is similar to the one made during the elevation of the Royal Exhibition Building into a national heritage site. Currently, the Royal Exhibition Building is regarded as a site and building that is revered not only for its aesthetic and scientific values but also for its rich history which is studied in schools.

In articles 1 and 2 of the convention, a feature is described as a natural heritage if it conforms to the definition of cultural and natural heritage. Most parts of the Royal Exhibition Building are natural and culture is evident.

A major difference between the 2011 operational guidelines and others in the past is the fact that more countries are encouraged to participate. Also, there is the inclusion of countries from Africa, the Pacific and the Caribbean together with communities that have preserved their tradition. The reconstruction of archaeological remains can be justified if there is documentation (Jokilehto 2008).

The physical fabric, landscape and land features are all considered during the integrity testing. There is the delineation of boundaries to enhance the protection and preservation of the sites. Such boundaries are reached by using the guidelines for outstanding universal value. In addition to this, a buffer zone is established around the area for the purposes of protection (UNEP 2004). Exceptions are made for management systems where each country is allowed to come up with its own management system. In some cases, management of the site is handed over to the community.

For the nomination of the property or feature to be completed, the property, boundary and buffer zone must be fully identified. A detailed map should be provided together with the description and history of the property (UNEP 2004). An analysis of the property using the provisions of the operational guidelines will also be carried out. In addition to this, a list of factors affecting the property will be provided. For instance, natural calamities such as floods and such others will be listed just like it was done in the case of the Royal Exhibition Building. All these are taken into consideration when the property is being nominated as a world heritage site (Dustan & Colligan 2009).


Exhibition centres are not only social places but learning also takes place there. This is another feature of the Royal Exhibition building and it shows how it fulfils the world heritage values. Ideas and values are some of the most interesting aspects exchanged during exhibitions. This ensures that values are learnt and retained. Apparently, out of all the exhibition buildings constructed during the Exhibition Movement, only the Royal Exhibition Building survives. This is another reason why it should be cherished.


Dustan, D & Colligan, M 2009, Victorian icon: The Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne, The Exhibition Trustees, Melbourne.

Gonzales, R et al. 2008, Phantom sightings: art after The Chicano Movement, California University Press, California.

Jokilehto, J 2008, The World Heritage List: what is OUV? Defining the outstanding universal value of Cultural World Heritage Properties, ICOMOS, Paris.

Jules, DB 2008, American artifacts, Michigan State University, Michigan.

Meyers, M 2012, World heritage sites, McGraw-Hill, London.

Pedersen, A 2008, Managing tourism at world heritage sites: a practical manual for world heritage site managers, UNESCO World Heritage Centre, Paris.

Piggott, JK 2004, Palace of the people: The Crystal Palace at Sydenham 1854-1936, University of Wisconsin Press, Wisconsin.

UNEP 2004, Review of the world heritage network: biogeography, habitats and biodiversity, UNEP, Cambridge.

Wells, RT 2006, Earth’s geological history: a contextual framework for assessment of world heritage fossil site nominations, IUCN, New York.

Yule, P 2007, Carlton: a history, Melbourne University Publishing, Melbourne.

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