Size and location
The Melbourne Museum is the largest museum complex in the Southern Hemisphere.
The building sits beside the historic 1880s Royal Exhibition Building in the Carlton Gardens, on the northern edge of Melbourne’s central business district.
The building has 80 000 m2 of floor space spread over six levels, 40 000 m2 of which are public spaces. This includes up to 16 000 m2 of dedicated exhibition and display areas – four times that of the former Museum of Victoria on Swanston Street.
The building is a three-storey structure above ground, with a 900-bay car park, back-of-house functions and IMAX Theatre underground. The Forest Gallery, a tree-filled outdoor exhibition space fully enclosed by mesh, features a large roof canopy that projects northwards above the roofline of the complex. This dynamic element establishes a parity of height and scale with the dome of the Royal Exhibition Building.
Melbourne Museum was designed by architects at Denton Corker Marshall, a Melbourne-based practice whose work includes the Melbourne Exhibition Centre and the Museum of Sydney. The winning design was selected from a competition held in 1994 that attracted 109 entries from Australia and overseas.
A 40-metre-wide plaza separates the new building from the Royal Exhibition Building. The museum’s southern glass facade acts as a mirror, emphasising the grandeur of the restored northern side of the historic building.
Melbourne Museum is designed as a complex of distinct parts rather than a single monumental building. Identifiable parts include the Children’s Museum (Big Box), Bunjilaka, the collection stores, the Forest Gallery, the Touring Hall and the IMAX Theatre. A grid framework sits over the entire complex.
The layout of the Melbourne Museum echoes the cruciform plan of the Royal Exhibition Building. It includes a 150 m public circulation walk of equivalent length to the ground floor of the Royal Exhibition Building’s Great Hall.
The design of Bunjilaka was developed following consultation with Aboriginal communities throughout Victoria. Key elements of Bunjilaka are the main exhibition gallery, a serpentine link space which features a five-metre-long etched zinc wall by renowned artist Judy Watson, a ‘lean to’ activities area clad with rusted steel, specialist storerooms for the States’ collection of Aboriginal artefacts, and meeting rooms for use by members of the Aboriginal community.
Photographer: Joe Vittorio. Source: Museum Victoria
The major construction contract was awarded to Baulderstone Hornibrook Pty Ltd in December 1996 and they moved onto the site in March 1997. The Melbourne Museum project required 47 000 m³ of concrete, 188 000 m² of formwork and 1800 tonnes of structural steel.
The Forest Gallery contains 6000 m² of mesh, and the two largest pylons at the northern end each weigh 12 tonnes.
A partner for the Royal Exhibition Building
The Royal Exhibition Building – a Melbourne landmark and a World Heritage listed building – is a feature of the museum precinct and has continued to operate as a commercial and cultural venue, hosting trade shows, exhibitions and other gala events.
Housing the collections
It took about four years for the State’s priceless collection of 16 million specimens and artefacts to be relocated from the old museum storage areas to new state-of-the-art storage facilities in Coburg and at Melbourne Museum.
Approximately two-thirds of the collections are housed in purpose-built stores at Melbourne Museum. These extend the full length of the complex, above the main circulation spaces, and are identified by the pale yellow cladding block-like element that sits above the public circulation spaces. Dedicated laboratories and research areas adjacent to the stores enable staff to access the collections and undertake research nearby.
In contrast to museums of the past, staff areas are clearly visible to the public through the glazed southern facade of the building, small viewing windows and glazed walkways inside.