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The Historic Capitol Theatre Comes Back to Life

Opened nearly 100 years ago as part of the Capitol House building in Melbourne, Australia, the art deco-era Capitol Theatre was designed by American husband and wife architects Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin and is the oldest movie theatre in that city.

The ceiling is particularly notable, with intricate moulded plaster designed to evoke the image of a crystalline cave. Opened in 1924, the theatre was almost demolished in the early 1960s, but remained open to the public until 2014. By that time, it had fallen into disrepair and was no longer a usable space.

RMIT University had purchased The Capitol in 1999 with the intention of using it as a lecture theatre, and in 2017 began an appeal to raise funds to revitalize the dilapidated, historic building. With a full refurbishment required – and lighting considered an important element of the project – a number of products from lighting controls specialist Pharos Architectural Controls were specified by solutions provider Lightmoves, a member of the project team.

The ceiling was previously lit with colored bulbs, so the color was static. The renovation replaced these with an energy-efficient LED lighting system that could provide unlimited color and dynamic effects. The control for this also supports the theatre’s aim of becoming a space for RMIT students to study and learn about theatre, lighting, films, and event production.

A Pharos Designer LPC 1 (Lighting Playback Controller 1), and two Designer TPS (Touch Panel Station) interfaces are now being used to light the Capitol Theatre’s famous ceiling. The TPS gives easy control of playback selection and lighting levels, allowing users to seamlessly transition between scenes, timelines, effects, and pixel-mapped media. It works in harmony with the LPC 1, which features 512 channels of DMX/eDMX, ideal for offering the fully customizable pre-programmed lighting effects that venues need to bring performances and experiences to life.

The lighting control solution was also intended to support the development of RMIT students’ technical abilities. RMIT’s students have been trained to use Pharos Designer software to program new scenes and timelines for the roof lighting.

There is excellent integration between the various technologies at the venue. Triggers on the LPC synchronize the ceiling lighting with the audio and digital projection systems. An eDMX pass-through allows the LPC to pass lighting data directly from a theatrical lighting desk, and the LPC also interfaces with the venue’s AV systems and Dynalite-controlled house lighting system.

Tony Symms, Regional Sales Manager for Asia Pacific at Pharos Architectural Controls said, “The ceiling at the Capitol Theatre is an impressive sight. It is incredibly positive that this historic venue has been saved from demolition and put back into good use. Our technologies are always an excellent choice for making the most of unique features such as the Capitol Theatre ceiling, but it’s also great to know that our solutions are being used to train and educate future lighting designers, engineers, and other industry professionals of the future.”

Braham Ciddor, Managing Director at Lightmoves, added, “The Capitol Theatre has been through many reinventions, and it is wonderful to see it finally returned to its former glory. Lightmoves is delighted to have been an integral part of the most recent renovations. Pharos was the best partner for this project to illuminate the ceiling, offering high-tech yet easy-to-use controls that showcase the architecture while also being ideal for education purposes.”

The transformation of the lighting for the refurbished Capitol Theatre ensures the venue has kept true to its original look and ambience, but is now enhanced through state-of-the-art lighting control. Thanks to all of the project partners, the Capitol Theatre is once again an important part of Melbourne culture.


Lighting control solutions provider: Lightmoves

LED lighting design concept & functional testing: GHD Consulting

Architects: Six Degree Architects

Builders: Hutchinsons

Electrical contractor: BN Electrical

Overall collaboration across project with RMIT University

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