Capitol House and Capitol Theatre
The Capitol Theatre is considered the finest interior design work by this talented couple.
Capitol House is a National Trust and Victorian Heritage registered property on the basis of its architectural, historical, aesthetic and technical significance to the State of Victoria.
An extensive refurbishment by architects Six Degrees Pty Ltd was completed by RMIT in the early 2000s.
The theatre, which seats 600, is used by both RMIT and the community for films, lectures, events and festivals.
The Capitol Theatre is a unique architectural expression, highly advanced in concept and design.
Its main feature is the spectacularly designed auditorium ceiling, indirectly lit with thousands of coloured lamps producing light that changes through all the hues in the spectral range. The lamps are concealed among the geometrically angled plaster panels, creating a crystalline cave effect.
The Theatre’s foyers are also cave-like, with sumptuous lighting effects, decorated columns and stained glass details.
The ceilings are based on organic design principles and are composed in a way which is both evocative and modern. The lighting was used in conjunction with the original orchestral scores in the early silent film era to add drama for the cinema-goer. It remains a spectacular sight today.
The theatre is also notable for pioneering concepts such as the use of reinforced concrete and a highly complex three-dimensional spatial arrangement. It displays the Griffins’ interest in the decorative possibilities of crystalline geometry, and in architecture expressive of the natural world and the forces of nature, of which they were the greatest exponents worldwide.
Capitol House was an original concept in Australia at the time of its construction for combining shops and a cinema at ground level with a 10-level office tower above, which involved daring structural design.
The essentially stripped classical facade was a bold, strongly American design for the period. It incorporates unusually patterned window frames and a cantilevered and heavily massed street verandah, which was itself a technical triumph of reinforced concrete.
The Capitol Theatre was the first large and sumptuous "picture palace" to be built in Victoria (followed by the Palais and the Regent in the late 1920s). It was unusual in the realm of theatres and cinemas worldwide, which were usually designed in revival/exotic or art deco styles, and rarely designed by avant-garde architects.
With its fabulous lighting effects, elaborate foyers, full orchestra and huge theatre organ, the Capitol exposed audiences to a totally new phenomenon in film entertainment, and was widely admired.
Until its re-opening in 1999, after being closed in the early 1990s, it was one of the few cinemas capable of screening films in standard 35mm format, as well as the more cumbersome yet visually superior 70mm format. Today, it is still capable of showing 35mm films along with educational 16mm films and documentaries, as well as the modern DVD format.
- The Cinema and Theatre Historical Society website has many historical pictures of the Capitol.