The Unconventional Convention Center

The Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Center opened its $1 billion extension June 22

By: By Michael Lowe

The Unconventional Convention Center // (c) 2009

Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Center

With its 237-booth, 2,500-person showing in the Melbourne Exhibition Center, the 2009 Australia Tourism Exchange (ATE), the largest convention of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, served as an exciting prelude to the June 22 grand opening of the center’s extension.

The $1 billion development is bringing versatility to the 323,000-square-foot Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Center (MCEC), making it Australia’s largest convention space. Additions include 32 new meeting rooms, a grand ballroom and a 5,000-seat plenary hall that can be divided into three self-contained theatres.

As a testament to the interest the business space has already received, the Center has booked 50 major international conventions beginning with the International Geomorphology Convention in July and including the Parliament of World Religions in 2010 and the World Diabetes Congress in 2013.

Although its space and versatility bring the MCEC into the world-class arena, its most distinguishing feature is its unheard of six-star energy rating design.

“It’s a serious rating,” said Tim Holding, Victoria’s Minister for Tourism in a press conference when asked of the Australian standard that gets benchmarked against U.S. and British equivalents. “It’s not just about the layout of the building, but also the sustainability principles that are embodied in the center.”

Some of those integrated systems include solar hot-water systems offsetting more than 40 percent of the energy used on water heaters; a black-water treatment plant that collects rain and wastewater to be used in toilet flushing and irrigation; and the use of an environmentally friendly Forest Stewardship Council-certified, sustainable timber.

Not only is the Convention Center friendly to the environment, but also to the delegates it hosts. Pipes in the concrete floor carry water that heats or cools the ground creating a comfortable atmospheric temperature, while carbon dioxide monitors integrated into the air conditioning — along with the use of carpets, paints and adhesives low in Volatile Organic Compounds — ensure better air quality.

“It’s not just the Victorian government who demands the very best building standards, but it’s also conference organizers who insist upon seeing the very best principles embedded in the infrastructure they utilize,” said Holding. “We wouldn’t consider it excessive.”