Futuna Chapel

A building that melds European and Māori design traditions, Futuna Chapel has survived a number of near misses and remains an exemplar of an indigenous New Zealand architecture.

Photo of the interior of Futuna church featuring wooden pews, a high ceiling made of wooden beams and planks, and large coloured-glass panels.

Historic and distinguished

Futuna Chapel was designed by architect John Scott (Taranaki, Te Arawa) in 1958 and built by the brothers of the Society of Mary from 1959 to 1961. It is named for the Pacific Island of Futuna where Marist missionary Peter Chanel was martyred in 1841.

The building was awarded the New Zealand Institute of Architects gold medal in 1968 and its 25-year Award in 1986. It was entered on to the New Zealand Heritage List as a Category 1 Historic Place in 1999 and is protected under the WCC District Plan.

Reflecting New Zealand

The building brings together European and Māori design elements.

The tree-like central timber post, the steeply pitched roof and the prominent barge boards bring to mind the traditional Māori meeting house or wharenui, while the rough plastered concrete work, exposed steel beams and the way the interior is lit from high windows reflect a number of European architectural traditions.

The use of diagonal symmetry, grid planning and modular dimensions all relate the building to both high Modernism and the classical architecture of Greece and Rome.

The roof structure and its means of support are exposed within the building, reflecting the Gothic tradition of expressing the battle against gravity. The extensive use of timber to support the roof, with exposed sarking, struts and rafters is typical of architect-designed New Zealand houses of the 60's and 70's.

A survivor

In 2000, the Society of Mary sold the Futuna Retreat, including the chapel, to Wellington property developer Art Potter. The buildings surrounding the chapel were replaced with medium-density housing. The chapel itself was protected by the Wellington District Plan in 2003, but while the building process was underway it was used to store materials. Many of the fixtures and fittings were tarnished, and the centrepiece wooden sculpture of the crucifixion by renowned NZ artist Jim Allen disappeared. It was later found on a farm in Taranaki and was reinstalled after being restored by art conservator Carolina Izzo.

The Friends of Futuna Charitable Trust now owns the land and the chapel and is working on an ongoinging maintenance and restoration plan for the building so it can continue to be used and appreciated as it was originally designed.

That work has been supported by several Built Heritage Incentive Fund grants including:

  • In 2006 $50,000 for the purchase and initial refurbishment
  • In 2010 $10,000 for repairs and restoration
  • In 2013 $27,000 for seismic investigation and restoration design and
  • In 2017 $35,513 for structural repairs to the four exterior fins.

The Built Heritage Incentive Fund

The fund helps with conserving, restoring, protecting and caring for Wellington's heritage-listed buildings and objects. Our focus is on earthquake strengthening. Find out if your project is eligible for funding through the Built Heritage Incentive Fund.