Finalist 2020

RMIT Capitol Theatre

Six Degrees Architects / Michael Taylor Architects / GHD / Slattery / Schuler Shook

The Capitol will make a significant contribution to Melbourne and Victoria, being transformed into a truly unique place to learn, create and innovate.

The Capitol Theatre was designed by Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahoney in 1924 and is regarded as one of the finest cinemas ever designed.

The RMIT Capitol Theatre reactivation brings together students, academics, the public and industry within one exceptional venue in the Melbourne CBD. The project retains, restores and showcases the significant heritage fabric of the Capitol Theatre, while also reactivating the building for uses that include teaching, research, cinema, art and performance.

Design Excellence

The design retains the intricate, geometric forms of the original building fabric within a framework of necessary and carefully executed modern interventions.

Heritage features have been restored, including the fantastic theatre ceiling, the glazed atrium ceilings, and a faithful reproduction of the chevron carpet.
The new interventions are technically complex, and introduce completely
new features: lift, kitchens, ventilation, extended stage and theatre flytower.

The new additions are clearly defined and have a crisp modern aesthetic that serves to both frame and accentuate the more ornate original building fabric. The ascent from Swanston Street into theatre is a key dramatic moment.

Design Impact

The Capitol is one of Melbourne’s architectural jewels, and one of 5 major picture palaces built in the 1920’s. The intricate and expressive style, typical of the Griffin-Mahoney partnership, has strong links to the Chicago School including Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright.

The restoration of this building has been followed throughout the world, as it is truly a building of world significance. The financial commitment of RMIT, donors and the State Government of Victoria has repurposed and reactivated  the building for the next 30-50 years to enable all Victorians to again experience the amazing spaces of the Capitol.

Design Transformation

The 2019 reactivation transforms a mothballed heritage cinema into an exciting contemporary venue for teaching, cinema, art and performance.
The transformation required complex technical interventions and brings significant public and cultural benefits:

  • Heritage restoration of a building of world significance
  • New contemporary uses supported by new technology
  • 2020 standard digital cinema and lighting installations.
  • Enhanced multipurpose venue use, including expanded foyers, kitchen and bar support and expanded stage areas.
  • Upgraded disabled access throughout the building and theatre.

Design Innovation

The RMIT Capitol Theatre is an innovative adaption of an historic building that involved a complex technical upgrade within a constrained heritage context.

The technical upgrades include:

  • Restoration of disused levels 2, 3 and 4 for teaching and events
  • Upgraded digital AV to current cinema standards (4K) and refurbishment of the historic 35/70mm projectors.
  • Full digital LED upgrade of the historic lighting system
  • New backstage area including green room, fly and loading.
  • High speed fibre connection to RMIT media precinct.

Other Key Features

Integration of Allied Disciplines
Highly complex integration of new services and materials into heritage fabric.

  • Schuler Shook – full 4K projection and  surround sound Audio Visual upgrade and new backstage and automated flytower
  • GHD –Mechanical, Electrical, Fire safety, kitchens and new disabled lift.
  • Brintons- New loomed reproduction heritage carpet.
  • Integrated donor wall, designed by student competition.
  • Low energy and multi coloured LED lighting replacement of ceiling lighting

Architectural Design 2020 Finalists

Bayswater Early Years Hub

k20 Architecture / Knox City Council

Rod Laver Arena

COX Architecture / Development Victoria / Melbourne & Olympic Parks / Lendlease

Reservoir Station

Genton / McGregor Coxall


Cumulus Studio / Arts Centre Melbourne

State Library Victoria Vision 2020 Redevelopment

Architectus / Schmidt Hammer Lassen / SLV

In Absence

Edition Office / Yhonnie Scarce / National Gallery of Victoria


Breathe Architecture

Ona Coffee

Breathe Architecture

Jackalope Pavilion

March Studio / Jackalope Group / Random International / CodBuild

Bardolph Gardens

Breathe Architecture


SheltAir / Swinburne University of Technology / Enzie