The building is named in honour of Ellis Rowan (1848-1922), a distinguished wildflower painter.
This building was the first to be built on the Botanic Gardens site in 1966. It then housed the administration offices as well as the original Herbarium. In 1970 the horticultural research laboratory was added, completing the architect's original design for the southern 'raised roof' part of the building. All of these functions have moved to more recently constructed buildings.
It now houses the interpretive and public relations units of the ANBG; the Australian Biological Resources Survey ABRS, together with their graphics and illustration studio.