The Royal Exhibition Building was completed in 1880 for the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880-81 and is located in Carlton Gardens. The symmetrical building has two forecourt entrances — originally called the French Forecourt (Eastern) and German Forecourt (Western). The Eastern Forecourt, with its fountain, is largely in tact. The Western Forecourt has seen many changes. It was originally intended to have a rotunda but this was most likely not completed.
When the 1888-89 Centennial International Exhibition was staged here, many temporary buildings were constructed in the gardens, including a substantial one in the Western Forecourt. Afterwards, the forecourt’s layout was restored. However, it was asphalted over in the 1950s so it could serve as a car park during the 1956 Olympic Games, though many of the trees planted in 1880 survived this period.
Under Lovell Chen’s supervision, the asphalt has been removed, the rainwater cistern installed, the central circular planting bed restored, the driveway and lawns reinstated, and two of the original gateposts returned from storage. Four further cast replica posts and replica lamp standards complete the scheme. A rendered bluestone plinth now sits in the centre of the forecourt, reflecting the location of the footings for the missing rotunda. As no trace of the original flower beds was found, the planting is somewhat speculative, though evidence of the pre-1880 Carlton Gardens layout was discovered and documented.
The storage tank holds runoff from the 9,000 sq m of Royal Exhibition Building roof, along with some surface drainage. It supplies irrigation water for Carlton Gardens, water for the Eastern Forecourt fountain and helps supply the Forest Gallery at the adjacent Melbourne Museum.
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