Nestled deep in the heart of the magnificent Carlton Gardens is the Royal Exhibition Building, Australia’s first World Heritage building and bastion to innovation and culture. Domain National reverently restored this historic icon to its former glory and is now entrusted to maintain it for generations to come.

The Royal Exhibition Building first opened in 1880 to house exhibitions, transform industry and inspire innovative thinking. It stands proudly on Melbourne’s fringe and offers unparalleled 360-degree views of the city from its majestic dome.

One of the world’s oldest remaining exhibition pavilions: a survivor from the Great Exhibition era, it is the first World Heritage listed building in Australia (1st July 2004). Still in operation as an exhibition hall, the venue is a true Melbourne landmark and one of the last remaining halls of its type in the world.

The venue has played host to countless gala dinners, car shows, fashion shows and community events over its illustrious 135-year history, so as an active venue it stands to reason it would incur a degree of wear and tear. Each year hundreds of exhibitors and millions of visitor’s flock to enjoy events and admire the enduring style and ambiance of the building and its surroundings.

However, the dynamic nature of this asset can come at a cost, as the building is exposed to people and equipment shuffling in and out, bumping and rubbing against the fragile walls and columns. Add to this the tyranny of the elements: air, moisture and light, and it’s easy to envisage the continuous preservation challenges faced by its custodians.

At some point post WWII, the building was painted white throughout. No doubt this helped with the maintenance program and cost management, but the true cost was to its character and appeal. Thankfully, at some point in the late 1980’s it was decided that the building should be reinstated to its original condition and an expansive restoration program was initiated.

The Domain National team were engaged on this project because they understood the attention and care required to protect and preserve historic and irreplaceable assets such as the Royal Exhibition Building. Going way beyond the capabilities of a mainstream commercial painter, the assignment required a specialist with the skills and knowhow of old-world materials and techniques, an understanding of the environmental conditions, an eye for the most minute detail and a great deal of patience.

Step one required locating and reviewing the original heritage colour scheme. As with most 100+ year assets original documentation was scarce and very little detail remained. Existing paint samples were found on site however, over the years, and through many hands, the true Heritage colours were lost. Consequently, a complete colour-way redesign was commissioned.

Domain National worked with the buildings’ facilities management and colour consultants to establish a new and authentic colour scheme. Much of this was validated by eye by Domain National’s experienced surface technicians…a capability which is scarcely found today and requires intimate understanding of the period.

Step two involved preparing the surfaces. In many cases these were quite dilapidated and exposed to years of mistreatment. In preparation, Domain National removed old led paint, years of layered overpainting, flaking paint and moisture affected surfaces on walls, ceilings, domes and columns. More specifically, buttresses which support the arches and domes needed complete refilling and repainting. The dado panelling was also repainted, and the shoulder colour of the buttresses were restored as they were also completely faded.

Step three involved applying the new colours to the surfaces. Two surface technicians worked tirelessly to reinstate the building to its original condition. Over several months they meticulously attended to every minute detail to ensure accuracy and the highest standard of workmanship.

For the past seven years Domain National has worked to a strict maintenance program, entrusted to protect and reinstate surfaces immediately after each major event, and attend to the ongoing surface maintenance. Key to this role is working with facilities management to innovate processes and surface finishes, enhance the resilience of the building – including the application of enamel finishes to doors, changes to wall application from matt to satin and oil and texture-based undercoating. These adaptations have proven to enhance surface resilience by reducing the effects from impacts, improving washability, maintaining colour lustre and enabling timely rectification.

John Robison – Facility Manager, Carlton Gardens Royal Exhibition Building, Museums Victoria said “The challenges for Domainnational to maintain/restore the painting décor within the building has been an ongoing rewarding process. Domain National, in conjunction with their in-house specialised painting personnel, have been working with Museums Victoria’s Royal Exhibition Building Facilities Manager over the last seven years collating information and programming works to keep Australia’s first “World Heritage Listed Building” in a state that presents as wonderful as the building its self”.

As a painter and decorator by trade, Zed Macinkovic – Domain National’s General Manager, always had an appreciation for heritage buildings; a passion introduced to him by his uncle at age 10, himself a master painter. In later years Zed established his own successful painting and maintenance business and today has expanded to include building construction services. Zed says “I really appreciate the craftsmanship involved in heritage buildings. From the outset, every detail was considered and designed with elegance and care. I feel privileged and somewhat responsible for preserving them so generations to come can admire and enjoy their unique beauty.”

Domain National are proud to be a trusted resource in the on-going preservation of this World Heritage building and its contribution to the Melbourne community.

Surface Technician:
Domain National
Client: Museums Victoria – Royal Exhibition Building Facilities Management
Colour Consultant: Dulux Australia