Explore The Capitol at Open House Melbourne

Explore The Capitol at Open House Melbourne

The Capitol is throwing open its doors for Open House Melbourne. The stunning 1924 theatre will be showcased with walking tours led by RMIT Venues Manager Marc Morel and architectural tours by Timothy Rodgers from Six Degrees Architecture.

The almost 100-year-old theatre was refurbished by Six Degrees Architects in an 18-million-dollar restoration and reopened in 2019. The restoration took about four years from design to completion.

We spoke to Marc Morel and Timothy Rodgers about the historical and architectural gems of this building ahead of the Open House tours this weekend.


Two women sit in The Capitol Theatre lobby Capitol Theatre Lobby. Source: RMIT

Marc Morel, RMIT Venues Manager:

Can you tell me what The Capitol was originally designed for and who would have visited the theatre in its early days? 

The Capitol was built as a commercial cinema and opened in 1924. Capitol House, in which the cinema sits, was originally a commercial building (now mostly residential). The Capitol began life as one of Melbourne's 3 largest cinemas, during a peak period of cinema, as a global entertainment phenomenon. With a capacity of over 2,500 seats at that time, it would really have attracted a cross section of Melbourne's community. 

What do you think is the most fascinating part of the history of The Capitol? 

The Capitol is an extraordinary internationally renowned architectural gem right in the heart of Swanston St. The venue has constantly evolved as fashions and technological changes have necessitated — and yet it has remained for 98 years a treasure, that every visitor who enters for the first time is wowed by.

Have you ever had people visit the building who remember it from its first incarnation? What are their thoughts on the refurbished Capitol? 

Every week we have visitors who worked in the cinema, or went on their first date at the cinema, during its previous incarnations. Unlike any other cinema, it's the building fabric that remains implanted in memories more than the film they saw. My own mum used to sneak out of her uni lectures as a young woman to see films at The Capitol with friends. Our experience with all these visitors is that they are overjoyed that RMIT has thoughtfully rejuvenated the venue to keep its functionality and relevance alive for future generations. 

Do you have any fun facts or little-known facts about The Capitol that you want to share? 

When The Capitol originally opened, the glorious ceiling had a retractable centre section, so that between sessions, cigarette smoke could be cleared from the cinema auditorium. The equipment to do this is still on the roof, albeit obstructed by modern rooftop infrastructure.

Capitol theatre ceiling at an event Capitol theatre ceiling. Source: RMIT

Timothy Rogers, Six Degrees Architect:

Can you tell me about your role in the refurbishment of the Capitol? 

I am Senior Architect at Six Degrees Architects and was the project lead for the refurbishment of The Capitol. This means that I have spent a lot of time in The Capitol and have been involved in the project at a very detailed level.

The role could be summarised as carefully responding to the unique historic built fabric, while also guiding a complex but exciting building process.

Where did you draw your inspiration for the redesign from? 

Working within a significant heritage project like The Capitol is inspirational in itself.

The original building was designed by Marion Mahoney and Walter Burley Griffin and is quite unique, particularly the amazing crystalline ceiling in the main theatre.

Six Degrees sought to celebrate the fragments of that original design that had been preserved. We see these original fragments as jewels, which we brought together through our more restrained interventions.

We were also interested in the experience of ascent through the building, from the darker lower levels up into the delicate light filled theatre and foyers. This is often a surprise for first time visitors.

What were some of the challenges of the redesign?  

The project was very challenging as the building is 100 years old, was quite deteriorated, and did not meet contemporary construction requirements.

But perhaps the biggest challenge was during the demolition phases. We found plenty of surprises that usually needed fast, creative responses.

Some particular challenges were the installation of a lift to allow equitable access, and the replacement of water damaged portions of the theatre ceiling by a specialist plasterer.

Can you tell us more about the famous ceiling?  

The main theatre ceiling is a crystalline form made of moulded plaster.

The Griffins’ idea was to create a sort of fantastic cavernous space, where their complex geometries could be used to evoke a heightened theatric experience. 
The ceiling glows and pulses from within.

Before the refurbishment the ceiling was lit by individual coloured bulbs, however it is now lit from within by adjustable and energy efficient LED battens.

What is your favourite part of the theatre? 

The theatre ceiling is spectacular and so it must be my favorite part.

However, my second favorite part is the orange chevron carpet. This is a faithful reproduction of the original colours, and to my eyes it is a surprisingly bold design. Surprise is part of what makes the Capitol so interesting.

The auditorium of The Capitol Theatre Capitol Theatre Auditorium. Source: RMIT

Tours at The Capitol Theatre for Open House Melbourne will take place this weekend. Social history tours will run 10am, 12.30pm and 3pm, Saturday 30 July. The architectural tours will run 10am, 10.45am and 11.30am, Sunday 31 July

Find out more about the Open House Melbourne tours of The Capitol.

The Capitol can also be visited for events, festivals and live performances throughout the year. Visit The Capitol


Story by: Saskia Kostic


  • Arts and culture

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RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.