Historic Place Category 1
pt Lot 1 DP A 1630
For fifty years from 1948, Futuna Retreat House in Karori, Wellington, provided retreat facilities for all Christian denominations. Prior to becoming a retreat center the place already had significant local associations with the history of Wellington. The advent of the retreat house itself was the indirect result of the first enclosed retreat for laymen to be held in Australasia at St Patrick's College, Wellington, in 1910. The eventual formation in 1936 of the Retreat Guild, subsequently called the St Joseph's Retreat Guild, was a response to a need, recognised at the 1910 retreat, to provide permanent retreat facilities in New Zealand. It also created an organization that eventually provided enough financial and administrative assistance to help in acquiring the old Kirkaldie property at 62 Friend Street, Karori, as a retreat house when it became available in 1947.
Several years after the Futuna Retreat House opened in 1948, the retreat concept underwent a significant change in policy by allowing women and children to accompany men on retreat. This may be seen as a direct response to the gradual emancipation of New Zealand women after the Second World War in particular, and an awareness of the need to create equal opportunity in Christian as well as secular affairs. It also created the need for a separate free-standing chapel at Futuna large enough to allow for whole families on retreat. The chapel that was erected in response to this need is now recognised as probably being the only genuine indigenous piece of New Zealand architecture that has ever been built.
Futuna Chapel was designed in Post-war Modernist style of the period 1950-1970. The design of the place owes some affinity to international Modernism, but it is essentially representative of a specifically regional New Zealand culture. Style indicators are:
- Radical plan shape anticipating liturgical changes.
- Unbroken straight lines emphasising verticality.
- Inverted V shape roof forms reminiscent of Gothic pointed arch.
- Glazing with vertically proportioned panes.
- Traditional use of colour in acrylic plastic glazing.
- Plain wall surfaces.
- Radical construction with indigenous references to the New Zealand Wool Shed and Maori whare.
- Art work as an integral part of the design.
Summary of Assessed Criteria
The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place:
ARCHITECT: John Scott (b.1924)
John Scott has been described by Jonathan Mane-Wheoki as the "best known and Most admired Maori architect". John Scott was born at Haumoana, Hawkes Bay, in 1924. For a brief time he was a pilot in the Royal New Zealand Air Force at the end of the Second World War. Scott enrolled at the University of Auckland School of Architecture in 1946 but he never completed his formal qualifications. For a brief
period of two years after leaving Auckland University, Scott joined a design and build group called Structural Developments. John Scott was the first Maori to study in a university school of architecture.
Since 1953 John Scott has practised from his home in Haumoana. He was registered as a member of the New Zealand Institute of Architects in 1965.
STYLE CODE: 82. Post War Modernist
In a quest for a New Zealand identity in architecture Futuna is, to quote Russell Walden,
"...New Zealand architecture; here is a rich characterisation of Maori
and Pakeha values in a natural setting; here is a quietly assertive architecture which speaks of the joy of New Zealanders working together. Here everything connects."
John Scott's design is superbly original and particular to this part of the world. In the forms we can see the whare, notably in the overhanging gable roof form and in the centrally placed heart pole, or poutokomanawa, supporting the roof; the woolshed, notably in the exposed timber rafters and sarking; the timber Gothic Church, notably
in the inverted V shape roof forms reminiscent of the Gothic pointed arch, and even (at a pinch) the roofs of Karori. The interior is a masterpiece in which the works of artist James Allen are integral. In particular the light through the coloured perspex in the gable ends of the building animate the important elements of the sanctuary such as
the altar, which can appear to be blood red, and the carved crucifix, which can change in colour from golden brown to yellow and to red according to the time of day and the type of weather outside.
Liturgically the chapel is also a success creating a place of silence and retreat. Built by the Brothers of Futuna before Vatican II, the plan anticipates the closer relationship between priest and congregation that would eventuate by adopting a radially oriented design for the placement of the altar and pews. This was a marked deviation from
traditional church architecture. The altar can be seen and approached from two sides simultaneously due to its location in the corner of the south and east walls of the sanctuary. The traditional division between nave and sanctuary is in fact dispensed with, the pews and the sanctuary occupying the same space in the nave, while the conventional linear orientation of pews facing down the nave towards the sanctuary and altar at the end is changed by placing the pews on both sides of the altar. The ancillary parts of the chapel, sacristies and side altars, are clearly subsidiary and don't interrupt the intention of the main space as described above, but they are nevertheless integrated into the function of the whole interior of the church by virtue of the open planning employed by the architect.
Commentators have noted the special qualities of the interior of Futuna Chapel Timothy Hogan has this to say:
"To sit in the Chapel on a fine day with the clouds rolling across the sky is an especially moving experience. The feel of the space is mystical, something Scott achieved with great simplicity."
Achieving this effect was the result of a carefully thought out plan which created its own logic. The aesthetic aspects of the design (both liturgical and visual) were integral with the planning in at least two ways. First of all Futuna Chapel was not an attempt to create a modern looking church, as so many church designs in the 1950s were. It was a modern church by virtue of the fact that the interior plan of the place anticipated liturgical changes, as noted above, a decade before they began to have any effect on church architecture. The interior layout of Futuna was therefore both radial and cyclical in concept, the hub being in effect the raised altar in one corner of the interior space. This represented a major change in church planning reflecting a desire
to bring congregations around the altar and to fully integrate all the spaces in the church to this end.
The logic of Scott's high vertical gable ends with coloured perspex then followed, in the second place, this cyclical concept and made it work in a visual sense. The inspiration for this came from Le Corbusier's Chapel at Ronchamp where Le Corbusier had said that light illuminates shapes, and that the shapes therefore achieve (by this means) an emotional power. According to Russell Walden, By glazing within the half-gables and above the hipped roof forms, Scott gradually began to see he could produce a roof that was responsive to the passage of the sun, and by using this in combination with the hipped form he could provide psychological containment over the pews. Such a roof would be receptive to the mood changes in nature. Each time a cloud sailed
by, or the sun suddenly came out, or when dusk began to fall, this alternation of hips and roof gables would record the cyclic experience and spatially move the interior."
In essence this sums up the design of Futuna Chapel; form and function are integrated and bound together in a unique way by the requirements of a modern church liturgy which inevitably found its best expression in the radical forms and materials of Modernist architecture adapted to indigenous New Zealand cultural themes.
Such additional criteria not inconsistent with those in paragraphs (a) to (k).
Built as a Wellington retreat center for the Catholic Marist order and opened in 1961, Futuna Chapel was awarded the New Zealand Institute of Architect's Gold medal in 1968, and the NZIA's Special (twenty-five years) Category National Award in 1986.
As a Modernist church with specifically special and outstanding New Zealand cultural features, Futuna Chapel has no peers in a comparative sense and must be seen as a unique stand alone building. Sufficient testimony to the uniqueness of the place as a piece of indigenous new Zealand architecture has been given in literary terms with the appearance of Russell Walden's book, Voices of Silence (1987). Other commentators, John Stacpoole and Jonathan Mane-Wheoki, have attested to the integrity of the place as being one of the finest architectural experiences in New Zealand and as a bicultural
The architect, John Scott, has been responsible for several church designs, notably St John's College Chapel, Hastings, 1954; Trimley Presbyterian Hall, 1957; and Our Lady of Lourdes, Havelock North, Hawkes Bay, 1960. In all of these, and at Futuna, there is a certain family likeness in the exploration of the radial or fan shaped plan
concept, and in the truth or honesty of materials such as natural timber. It is therefore hard not to accept the truth of Russell Walden's assertion that John Scott "has been an outsider to the conforming consensus of the international style ". The result, in Futuna Chapel, is a building to which New Zealanders can relate without being repelled by the intellectual austerity of Modernist architecture.
- Original Construction: 1958 (circa) - 1961 (circa)
NZIA Gold Award Winner 1968, 25 Year Award 1986
A copy of the original report is available from the NZHPT Central region office
this page is correct to the best of the Trust's knowledge. If you have any additional
information you would like to share with the Trust, please
contact the Registrar.
You may wish to contact the Trust to view our paper records.