Architect: Six Degrees Pty Ltd Architects
Building Surveyor: BSGM Consulting Building Surveyors Pty Ltd
Quantity Surveyor: Simon Wragg & Associates Pty ltd
Conservation Architect: Michael Taylor Architect
Engineering Services: Scott Wilson Irwin Johnson Pty Ltd
Main Contractor: Cockram Builders Pty Ltd
Project Manager: Graeme Martin
Client Relations Manager: David Howard
Project Budget: $2,200,000
The Capitol Theatre and Capitol House is one of Melbourne’s most important historic buildings. Designed by Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin, it was completed in 1924. Marion described it as a new cultural heart of Melbourne, where it remained until significant alterations in 1964 were carried out, due largely to falling audience numbers after the introduction of television. It is best known for its extraordinary crystal inspired ceiling.
RMIT University bought the theatre in 1999, and Six Degrees have begun a process of refurbishment which will take some years. The works have generally involved "undoing" inappropriate 1960's work, reopening disused spaces, safety upgrades and provision of disabled access. The theatre, which seats 600 people, is currently used for lectures, festivals and events for both RMIT and the Melbourne public.
Six Degrees involvement with the Capitol began in 1998 when the theatre had been closed for some time and was subject to a series of inappropriate development applications. Melbourne City Council commissioned a study by Six Degrees which explored the possible use of the venue as a festival and arts based centre. This background led to our appointment by RMIT to undertake masterplanning, safety upgrade and disabled access works.
Our approach throughout the project has been to encourage a process of discovery by the public of this valuable building. Demolition work was undertaken to reveal the original spatial arrangement and interlinking of foyer spaces which were upgraded to allow partial public access. A new audio visual installation and theatre lighting systems were incorporated in an unobtrusive way, the lighting system utilising sliding ceiling panels which were originally used for ventilation. Geometric ceilings were relamped to return to their former glory. A new lift and disabled access corridor to the theatre use soft natural materials which complement the crystalline geometry of the theatre interiors.
The theatre is notable for a number of pioneering concepts such as early use of reinforced concrete, marvellous stained glass details and a highly complex three dimensional spatial arrangement. It's greatest asset though is the magical geometric plaster ceilings. These are based on organic design principals of natural orders and are composed in a way which is both evocative and very modern. The ceilings are indirectly lit in four colours and the lighting was used in conjunction with the original orchestral scores in the early silent film era to add drama for the filmgoer. It remains a spectacular sight.