In 1822 Wesleyan Methodist missionaries came to Tonga. By the mid-19th century, Wesleyan Methodist Christianity was well established and is now central to Tongan identity. The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga is now an independent church and is the largest Methodist denomination in Tonga. Members of the royal family are church members.
The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga in Mangere is one of the largest churches ever built by the Tongan community. It is a grand structure on a large site in Favona Rd, and is built in the shape of a traditional Tongan house or fale with large internal spaces and vaulted rooflines.
The church community has grown over the years, resulting in the need to invest in a new communal building and auditorium. While much of the building work was undertaken by church members and workers from the Pacific Islands, Reverend Frederick Feki engaged the services of Bull O’Sullivan Architecture to design and oversee the project.
The Lesieli Tonga Auditorium is a large-scale space that has been designed to fulfil several functions, both ritual and communal, for the Tongan church community.
The auditorium is 46 metres square with a 14 metre vaulted ceiling. Music and song are central elements of the Wesleyan Church and the Tongan community, and as a result, the acoustics of the auditorium were identified as a key element of the design. Acoustic performance, however, had to blend seamlessly with traditional and cultural features essential to the Tongan community. To achieve this blend of performance and cultural identity, the architects turned to Autex to achieve a consistent level of acoustic performance over a large volume.
The Autex products were vital for the project as a unique custom design was required. They were easy to install, bespoke, and achieved great acoustic results. Without any form of acoustic treatment the voices and sounds of religious performances are lost within such a large space.
The product used for this unique environment were Quietspace® 3D Ceiling Tiles, specially designed to form a Polynesian pattern derived from traditional Tongan tapa cloth. Autex engineer Jonathon Mountfort says they “developed a simple repeating element, patterned, en masse, to create an impressive visual and acoustic ceiling.” The tiles were created to be flexible and were able to be trimmed in order to allow fitting to a vaulted ceiling.
Reverend Frederick Feki described the finished acoustic ceiling as a “Frangipani blanket that wraps the guests who walk in with that warm feeling of belonging”.
The project was completed in early 2016. The new building was awarded the NZIA Public Building Auckland Architecture Award in 2017.
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