Site Overview

site name:
Capitol Theatre
other names:
Capital House

Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony
date of commission:
date of completion:
109-117 Swanston St, Melbourne, Victoria
Recreation / Culture (REC-C)
protection status:
– AIA – Nationally Significant 20th Century Architecture
Victorian Heritage Register (H0471)
– National Trust of Australia (Victoria)
– DOCOMOMO Australia Register


Capitol House and Capitol Theatre is located on Swanston Street in Melbourne and occupies the site of the former Town Hall Café. Comprising a 10-storey office building and theatre below, it was constructed from reinforced concrete in a raised shuttering technique. Designed by the office of Walter Burley Griffin, the centrepiece of the building is the multi-faceted fibrous plaster ceiling in the theatre auditorium. Cinema-goers were treated to a coloured-light show and rows of primary colour bulbs were programmed to imitate those of a revolving crystal. The auditorium itself is the negative of a Northern India Hindu temple form pictured in the frontispiece to Burgess & Spiers, The late James Fergusson’s History of Indian Architecture, 1910. The receding rectangles of plain linear strips house fascinating projective geometries magically responding to the colour cycle. The climax to this tiered prism of space was a long flat plaster ceiling panel that was retractable, revealing the sky. The introduction of television broadcasting during the 1950s reduced audience numbers, so in 1965 a new arcade replaced the cinema stalls; a cascading stair and foyer were lost. RMIT University and Six Degrees, architects, aspire to restore the Theatre’s faded vibrancy.
-Text adapted from an entry by Jeffrey Turnbull in Australia Modern: Architecture, Landscape and Design 1925-1975, Hannah Lewi and Philip Goad (2019, Thames and Hudson).


Capital Theatre Virtual Tour