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On the wing.

Through bold handling of scale, light and colour, Denton Corker Marshall invigorate the daunting volume of Australia's largest exhibition centre.

Historically, Melbourne's central city core has developed on the north bank of the Yarra river, east of the downstream port area. Over the years, changes in shipping practices and increasing containerisation have gradually shifted the focus of Melbourne's port activities further downstream, freeing up the southern side of the river adjacent to the city centre. Redevelopment of the south bank of the Yarra began during the mid 1980s, with the creation of new arts, entertainment, commercial and residential facilities along the spine of a riverside promenade.

The most recent addition to this complex is the Melbourne Exhibition Centre, designed by Denton Corker Marshall. Weighing in at 30 000 sqm, it is Australia's largest indoor exhibition facility. The building is simply planned as an extruded linear shed, echoing the bald functionalism of the original port warehouses. Yet the sleek, aerofoil profile of its roof clearly identifies it as a modern intervention. The 380m long rectangular volume is set at a slight angle to the river, creating an intermediate park-like space, which is partly occupied by the converted cargo sheds and dry docks of Melbourne's Maritime Museum. At the exhibition centre's north-east end (where it meets Clarendon Street), the monolithic volume is fractured into a jazzy, attention-seeking collage of angled planes, colliding in an exuberant gesture of welcome.

A colossal metal fin, 10 storeys high, dominates this ironic, southern hemisphere homage to Constructivism. (As one Australian commentator put it 'Melnikov would blush'.) This splintered agglomeration forms the gatehouse to the complex, housing reception, meeting rooms, an auditorium and various public amenities. Behind its fashionable freneticism, the whale-like bulk of exhibition hall calmly undulates into the middle distance.

The huge volume of the exhibition hall can be subdivided into configurations of various sizes by four sliding walls, thus generating immense flexibility. Ancillary spaces are housed in a series of self-contained pods located on the perimeter of the exhibition spaces. The 84m wide hall is enveloped by a gently swooping, convex roof, like a giant aircraft wing. A smaller concave roof covers the double-height concourse that runs along the riverside edge of the building, providing both access and breakout spaces to the exhibition halls. The generously proportioned concourse is animated by cartoon-like, superscale elements and colourful graphic devices, designed to orientate visitors. A sloping glass wall gives views over the park and river beyond. The curved roof overhangs to create a verandah, supported on a multitude of slim steel posts, like reeds along a riverbank. Reflecting a theme common in traditional Australian architecture, the verandah reinterprets the notion of public ante-space. Its forest of delicate columns diffuses the light and softens the public edge of the building, transforming it into a shady and welcoming promenade. Through a bold yet assured handling of scale, light and colour, Denton Corker Marshall have succeeded in enlivening a dauntingly large building volume in an invigorating and accessible way.
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Title Annotation:Melbourne Exhibition Centre
Author:Slessor, Catherine
Publication:The Architectural Review
Date:Mar 1, 1997
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