The pou in Futuna Chapel (Photo: The Single Object)

The Single Object: The pou of Māori architect John Scott

The pou is the central column within a wharenui or meeting house, seen as the heart of the building around which everything unfolds. John Scott’s use of pou in his modernist designs helped bring two architectural worlds together.

“When I think of John Scott’s work, I think about his incredible contribution to the development of modernist architecture in New Zealand,” says art historian Deidre Brown (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kahu). “Taking it away from square, boxy forms and actually imbuing it with the mana of the landscape.”

Born in Hawke’s Bay in 1924, John Scott grew up in a time when tangata whenua had very little visual expression outside of the Pā. As an architect, the unique design elements in his works were inspired by both his rural upbringing and his heritage. A key inspiration: the wharenui. 

“He had this incredibly rich Māori background and understanding of space, yet he [also] had this experience of an architect in western ways of building,” says Brown. “His kaupapa was to bring two worlds together.”

Key to this was Scott’s use of pou in his buildings. Traditionally, the pou tokomanawa is the central column within a wharenui or meeting house. Brown describes it as an anchoring column – “the heart of the building around which everything else unfolds”.

The pou is a defining feature in Scott’s important buildings. One of the most striking examples can be seen in Wellington’s Futuna Chapel. Built in 1961, the chapel’s design took Māori architecture out of the marae and embedded it into the New Zealand vernacular.

Futuna Chapel and its powerful pou saw John Scott’s designs recognised around the world, and affirmed his place as an architect and a pou korero for the next generation. Some would call this a reclamation of Aotearoa through design.

Watch episode one: Chainsaw

Watch episode two: Embroidery

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