Fale o Samoa wins top New Zealand Timber Design Award

Traditional Samoan design and modern design technology has helped Samoa Government’s new Fale o Samoa win a New Zealand Timber design award.

A view of the ceiling of the award winning Fale o Samoa

The Fale o Samoa in Auckland, won the Interior Innovation Award at the New Zealand Wood Resene Timber Design Award 2017 last month. The award was sponsored by Taranakipine. It was awarded “for innovative use of wood or wood panel product as a signature feature in a predominantly wood building, adding ambience, flair and practicality.”

The Fale o Samoa is a traditional shaped Samoan Fale. It is part of a multi-million-dollar complex that includes a separate adjacent building for office and retail space. The Samoan Consulate occupies the top floor, while the floors beneath are available for retail, office conferencing and indoor and outdoor meeting areas.

The Fales interior won honours over six other New Zealand competitors. The two strongly commended designs are in Point Wells and Christchurch.

Walker Community Architects designed and built the Fale o Samoa complex. They were tasked to design a ‘traditional Fale’ accommodating up to 450 people (seated) for community events whilst remaining conscious of historical techniques and materials.

Walker’s Promotions Manager Debbie Fergie said the brief by the Government of Samoa called for a building that resembled a traditional Samoan Fale incorporating kitchen facilities to cater for large community events and a malae or common ground area for guests to gather before entering.

Although there was a degree of simplicity in the primary structure of concrete columns and large circular hollow section (CHS) trusses, the detailing of the raw materials was minimal and genuine to Samoan architecture Ms Fergie said.

“The scale of this Fale is well beyond the ability of timber alone as per New Zealand regulations, thus we had to explore ways to conceal the primary structure of the concrete and steel,” she said.

Pacific Periscope toured the Fale o Samoa complex in December last year with Samoa Trade Commissioner Fonoti Dr Lafitai I Fuatai and without doubt from inside and out the structure is a sight to behold.

The majestic Fale can be seen from afar, located on the corner of an arterial road — Bader Drive and Mascot Avenue near the heart of the bustling Mangere Town Centre. The complex adds an exciting new dimension to the local landscape.

On entering the Fale, the tall curved cathedral like ceiling held up by tall timber posts supported by wooden battens is eye catching. Fonoti proudly pointed out the special details inside the Fale with the use of traditional coconut sennit (a type of cordage made by plaiting strands of dried fibre such as those of coconut trees) lashings on the posts featured throughout the structure.


The interior highlights a variety of different types of wood bringing together modern technology and traditional Samoan design.

The three judges recognised the achievement saying, “Traditional building methods have been scaled-up to make a large community space while maintaining the sense of enclosure and detail. Great richness is derived from the shaped and honed timbers with traditional bound joints (tafa).

“The large and elegantly curved and lathed Glulam rafters suggest traditional fale construction while demonstrating the use of advanced timber machining technology.”

The award came just six months after the building was opened by former Auckland Mayor Len Brown and Samoa’s Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi on July 30, 2016.

Speaking from a cultural perspective Samoa’s Trade Commissioner to New Zealand said, “I think the cultural patterns and designs skilfully woven by our three traditional craftsmen using sennit made a substantive contribution to the award.”

The three afa lashers came from the village of Letogo in Samoa.  Ili Faasaoina Timu, the leader and Leo’o Faletagoa’I and Faapito To’a are an experienced team who won the contract to work on the Fale. They are attached to Aggies Hotel in Samoa where they are frequently called on to use their expertise to maintain the new hotel fales. Ili learnt of the award on his way through Auckland to the Samoa High Commission in Canberra to assess doing a similar job there.

“He was elated and proud. Because to him, this was recognition of their craftsmanship in terms of the total award, he said he would share it with his work mates,” Fonoti said.

There were only two main colours used, brown and black to provide contrast and highlight the subject and the background.

“It’s hard to explain the motifs lashed on the timber structures in a brief paragraph, but these depict cultural patterns taken from daily life activities, e.g. a fish or a leaf or some other article which provides imagery to highlight what is important within the Samoan cultural context.”

The Samoa Consulate moved from its original location in Auckland’s Karangahape Road in response to the changing demographic of the Samoan community many of whom now live in South Auckland. The proximity to Auckland Airport, South Auckland and the central city, the new consulate office is providing a hub for the Samoan communities in New Zealand to come together.

Tenancy space is still available in the building. However, the Fale has proved a popular new venue and has been regularly hired for community events and functions.

Samoa Stationery and Books (SSAB) owned by Samoan entrepreneur Fiti Leung Wai and her husband Aumua Ming Leung Wai launched their first New Zealand retail outlet in the Fale o Samoa complex in November selling products sourced from Samoa and various other Pacific Islands. Pacific Trade Invest (PTI) NZ has worked closely with SSAB in the past couple of years.

For more information please contact Joe Fuavao, PTI Trade Development Manager on joe.f@pacifictradeinvest.co.nz

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