HISTORIC CONVENTION VENUES: Conference centres from the past

Published on : Thursday, September 30, 2021


The history of the first convention centres dates back to the mid-19th century Britain. Often termed as exhibition halls these centres served as places to host multi-functional events and gatherings.

Read on to know about some of the most historic convention centres of the 19th century:


Considered to be the first purpose-built exhibition hall in Great Britain, the Bingley House was built in 1850 by Messrs Branson and Gwyther using surplus steels used in the construction of the Euston Railway Station. Made with red and blue bricks, the building was constructed in a Roman Doric style and covered one and quarter acres internally with ten entrances. It served as a primary meeting and exhibition space and witnessed several important historic events. It also hosted cattle shows, boxing matches and concerts. The hall was the centre for British Prime Minister Gladstone’s political rally in November 1888. Unfortunately the building succumbed to fire at the Midland Caravan, Camping and Leisure Exhibition and demolished in January 1984. The functionality of the centre was replaced by the National Exhibition Centre and the International Convention Centre of Birmingham and the Symphony Hall stands in its place at present.


Built back in 1851 to house The Great Exhibition (the grand show of modern industrial technology), the Crystal Palace was among the first historical convention centres constructed in London’s Hyde Park. The convention palace was made of cast iron and plate glass and featured 92,000 m2 of exhibition space. The grand exhibition building was designed by Joseph Paxton with a total length of 1,851 feet and interior height of 128 feet. The building represented modern architecture and industry that was developing in the time of the Industrial Revolution. The Great Exhibition took place from May 1 to October 15 in 1851. After the event the palace was relocated to a South London area known as Penge Common. Reconstructed at the top of the Penge Peak next to Sydenham Hill, the building stood from June 1854 until it was destructed by fire in November 1936. After the unfortunate damage, the nearby residential area was named as Crystal Palace after the landmark including the popular Crystal Palace Park. The park still consists of few original dinosaur sculptors from the exhibition palace.


The Palais de I’Industrie or the Palace of the Industry was an exhibition hall constructed to host the Paris World Fair in 1855. Located in between the Seine River and the Champs Elysees in Paris, the building was made by architect Jean-Marie-Victor Viel and engineer Alexis Barrault under the supervision of Emperor Napolean III. He made the building with the aim of constructing a spectacular exhibition hall that can rival the Crystal Palace. The building was 260 metres long and 105 metres wide with the main nave being 190 metres long and 48 metres wide. It was surrounded on four sides by two stories high and 30 metres wide aisles. It had semi-circular trusses bridged a 24- metre (80 ft) span to create an enormous exhibition room. However, despite its immense size, the palace was not large enough to house all of the expected exhibitors. Therefore, two temporary buildings were constructed to house the remaining displays. One major drawback of the building was its poor ventilation system that made it extremely hot during the day. But even then it served as a hall for numerous exhibitions and several corporate and social events until its demolition in 1897. The dismantling took place to make way for the Grand Palais of the World Fair in 1900 that now stands as a large historic site, exhibition hall and museum complex.


Often considered to be a reworking of London’s Crystal Palace, the Garden Palace was constructed as a purpose-built exhibition building to house the Sydney International Exhibition in 1879. Designed by James Barnet and made by John Young, the exhibition palace was similar to a large cathedral. It was over 244 metres long with a floor space of over 112,000 metres made with 4.5 million feet of timber, 2.5 million bricks and 243 tons of galvanised corrugated iron. The north tower of the building had Sydney’s first hydraulic lift allowing visitors to climb the tower. Besides meetings and exhibitions, the Garden Palace was also used by a number of Government Departments back in the day until it was completely destructed after being engulfed by fire in September 22, 1882. At present, the only existing remains of the Garden Palace are its wrought iron gates and carved Sydney sandstone gateposts located on Macquarie Street entrance of the Royal Botanical Garden.


One of the last remaining major exhibition buildings in the world from the 19 th century, the Royal Exhibition Building is a World-Heritage listed building situated in Melbourne, Australia. It was constructed as a part of the international exhibition movement, which presented over 50 exhibitions around the globe between 1851 and 1915. The building covers approximately 26 hectares of area, is 150 metres (490 ft) long and is surrounded by four city streets. Constructed to host the Melbourne International Exhibition in 1880-81, the building went to house larger events like the Centennial International Exhibition in 1888 and the official opening of the first Parliament of Australia in 1901. Although several small sections and wings of the building were subjected to demolition and fire throughout the 20 th century, the main building or the Great Hall survived. It underwent major restoration throughout the 1990s and in 2004 and became the first building in Australia to be awarded UNESCO World Heritage status. It is also the world's most complete surviving site from the International Exhibition movement 1851–1914 and currently hosts various exhibitions, conferences, conventions, meetings and other events closely associated with events at the Melbourne Museum.


The Aberdeen Pavilion is the last surviving Canadian example of what was once considered as a Victorian form of exhibition hall. It was designated as a National Historic Site of Canada in 1983 and currently stands as an exhibition and convention centre in Ottawa, Ontario. The pavilion was built in 1898 to serve as the central hall for the Central Canada Exhibition and was known as the “Cattle Castle” for many years due to its use for Central Canada Exhibition’s agricultural exhibits and shows. During the war period, it also became an important military structure. It consists of a series of large steel arches that holds up the roof and allows for a large and column-free interior space of some 3,000 square metres. In 1982, the building was designated as a heritage structure under the Ontario Heritage Act and required significant restoration work. After an approval of a basic renovation plan by the City Council, the newly restored structure opened in 1994.

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