The Royal Exhibition Building's Southern Facade and the Hochgurtel Fountain - Melbourne
Sitting amid the beautiful Carlton Gardens, the Royal Exhibition Building is a World Heritage Site-listed building at the north-eastern edge of Melbourne’s central business district.
The Royal Exhibition Building was designed by the architect Joseph Reed, who also designed the Melbourne Town Hall and the State Library of Victoria. According to the architect, the design was inspired by many different sources. The dome was modeled on the Florence Cathedral, while the main pavilions were influenced by the style of Rundbogenstil and several buildings from Normandy, Caen and Paris.
The foundation stone was laid by the then Victorian governor George Bowen on 19 February 1879 and it was completed in 1880, ready for the Melbourne International Exhibition. The building consisted of a Great Hall of over 12,000 square metres and many temporary annexes. In the 1880s, the building hosted two major International Exhibitions; the Melbourne International Exhibition in 1880 and the Melbourne Centennial Exhibition in 1888 to celebrate a century of European settlement in Australia. The most significant event to occur in the Exhibition Building was the opening of the first Parliament of Australia on 9 May 1901, following the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia on 1 January. After the official opening, the federal government moved to the Victorian State Parliament House, while the Victorian government moved to the Exhibition Building for the next 26 years. On 3 September, the Australian National Flag was flown at Royal Exhibition Building for the first time. On that day Prime Minister Edmund Barton announced the winners of a competition to design a flag for Australia. The buildings were a venue for the 1956 Summer Olympics, hosting the basketball, weightlifting, wrestling, and the fencing part of the modern pentathlon competitions. As it decayed, it became known derogatively by locals as The White Elephant in the 1940s and by the 1950s, like many buildings in Melbourne of that time it was earmarked for replacement by office blocks. In 1948, members of the Melbourne City Council put this to the vote and it was narrowly decided not to demolish the building. The wing of the building which once housed Melbourne's aquarium burnt down in 1953. During the 1940s and 1950s, the building remained a venue for regular weekly dances. Over some decades of this period it also held boat shows, automobile shows and other regular home and building industry shows. It was also used during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s for State High School Matriculation and for the Victorian Certificate of Education examinations, among its various other purposes. Nevertheless, the grand ballroom was demolished in 1979, leaving the main structure in place along with annexes constructed in the 1960s and 1970s. Following the demolition of the grand ballroom, there was a public outcry which prevented the main building from also being demolished.
The fountain in front of the Great Hall’s southern entrance was designed in 1880 by Joseph Hochgurtel, an immigrant from Cologne, and his colleague August Saupe. The Hochgurtel fountain has four boys, representing innocence and potential of youth, dancing about a central column. Above them are symbols of industry, science, commerce and art; a steam engine, telescope, surveying implements, a sailing ship, a globe of the world and musical instruments. The fountain includes representations of Victoria’s flora and fauna. The base of the fountain features three mer-people and several more young boys. The fountain is over ten metres high and is made of Portland cement.
During a visit to Victoria in 1984, Princess Alexandra (Queen Elizabeth II's cousin) bestowed the royal title on the building and it has been referred to as the Royal Exhibition Building ever since. This title, and the first conservation assessment of the building undertaken by Alan Willingham, sparked a restoration of the interiors of the building in the late 1980s and 1990s, and the construction of a mirror glass annexe (which was later demolished). In 1996, the then Premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennett, proposed the location and construction of Melbourne's State Museum on the adjacent site. Temporary annexes built in the 1960s were removed and in 1997 and 1998, the exterior of the building was progressively restored.
On 1 July 2004, the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens was granted listing as a World Heritage Site, the first building in Australia to be granted this status. The heritage listing states that "The Royal Exhibition Building is the only major extant nineteenth century exhibition building in Australia. It is one of the few major nineteenth century exhibition buildings to survive worldwide."