John Scott’s Chapel of Futuna
In 1958, six years into his private practice, Hawke’s Bay architect John Scott was commissioned by the Society of Mary to design a chapel for their spiritual retreat in Karori, Wellington.
Built by the Brothers of the Society themselves, and embellished by Auckland sculptor Jim Allen, Futuna Chapel opened in 1961 and immediately became a talking point among architects and a mecca for aspiring members of the profession.
In the 50 years since, this little private building hidden away the Wellington suburb of Karori has become generally regarded as an architectural masterpiece and perhaps the most complete example of a true modern ‘indigenous’ New Zealand design.
Futuna Chapel is generally regarded as one of the most significant New Zealand buildings of the 20th century. It won the New Zealand Institute of Architect’s gold medal in 1968, and the 25 year award in 1986. The Chapel’s architect, John Scott, was posthumously awarded a NZIA Gold Meal for Enduring Architecture in 1999.
In 2000, the Society of Mary had no further use for the Futuna complex and sold it to developers. While the 66 residential units now forming Futuna Village were being built, the chapel was used as a materials store. Futuna Chapel faced demolition. In 2000 Jim Allen’s magnificent Jesus figure disappeared from the Chapel and remained missing for 12 years until its recovery in 2012.
Concern about the building’s future came from many quarters. The Friends of Futuna Charitable Trust, a group of private citizens concerned with Wellington and New Zealand art, architecture and history was formed, and purchased the building. The Trust, a non-profit organisation, is dedicated to ensuring that Futuna Chapel is preserved for future generations. The Trust cares for the building, and ensures it remains a vital part of the Wellington community.
Futuna is now registered as a Category 1 historic place by Heritage New Zealand, meaning that it has ‘special or outstanding historical or cultural heritage significance or value’.