Acoustics and Frangipanis; Culture and Technology Combined in a Unique Space

Case Study

Free Wesleyan Tongan Church

Account Manager

Daniel Szczepanski

Interior Designer

Michael O’Sullivan


Michael O’Sullivan


Patrick Reynolds

“Without any form of acoustic treatment the voices and sounds of religious performances are lost within such a large space. We believe that (acoustic excellence) is the most important aspect to any worship space.”

Brad Bonnington , Bull O’Sullivan Architecture

In 1822 Wesleyan Methodist missionaries came to Tonga. By the mid-19th century, Wesleyan Methodist Christianity was well established and since that time, has been 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 and resulting in the need to invest in a new communal building and auditorium. Whilst 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 Bull O’Sullivan project was led by Michael O’Sullivan, who was born and raised in South Auckland and who currently resides in Mangere. Michael teaches at Auckland University and with partners Andrew Bull and Glen Watt, is known for a personal and hands on style of architectural project management that may even involve design and fabrication of key interior items such as furniture.

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 grand opening of the church had the attendance of nearly 1000 people of the Tongan Community. A meal fit for kings was served at the event, consisting of 100 pigs and several hundred crayfish.

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 excellence, 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 Industries’ formed acoustic tiles. Bull O’Sullivan architectural graduate Brad Bonnington, who assisted with the project, comments that the church “wanted to achieve a consistent level of acoustic performance over a large volume, created by formed tiles (designed) to reflect a layer of Frangipanis overhead”.

Bonnington further commented that the Autex products were vital for the project as a unique custom design was required. The Autex products used were easy to install, bespoke, and acoustic. He went on to say “Without any form of acoustic treatment the voices and sounds of religious performances are lost within such a large space. We believe that (acoustic excellence) is the most important aspect to any worship space”.

Autex engineer Jonathon Mountfort, who worked on the project, comments that the tiles used for this unique environment were 3D Ceiling Tiles, specially designed to form a Polynesian pattern derived from traditional Tongan tapa cloth. He goes on to say that Autex “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”.

Autex Greenstuf® Insulation products were also used extensively in the building to achieve thermal and acoustic damping in walls and roof.

The project was completed in early 2016. The new building was awarded the NZIA Public Building Auckland Architecture Award in 2017. The judges described the project well; “This poetic and robust building challenges the industry on the issue of engagement over commerce. The extraordinarily scaled, contemporary Tongan building has established a new building typology for New Zealand: a vast community space so large yet most aptly described as a “living room”. The single volume space, which provides a focus for the Tongan community both in New Zealand and abroad, acts as the main house of a village, hosting events from the highly formal to the casual, all united under a highly textured ceiling which is highly appropriate, but not imitative or directly referential. Richness and economy have been reconciled in a project completed to a very tight budget. The community ownership of the building is already evident, reflecting a long process of engagement, debate and construction. The Pacific concept of exchange has been fully embraced by the architect, who has nurtured the relationship with significant gifts to the community.” (, 2017)

Daniel Szczepanski from Autex Industries, commented that “Autex is proud to have been part of such a singular and challenging project. Technology and culture have been blended in the creation of this unique building”. 



Autex Product Details:

Walls and ceiling were trimmed with 6mm Cube, colour Falling Water.

Custom designed 3D Tiles Falling Water were used to represent the frangipani flower across the expanse of the ceiling.

GreenStuf® Insulation products were used throughout the auditorium with R2.6 Roll Form 140mm used for acoustic dampening in the midfloor between the ground and mezzanine, R2.9 Roll Form 185mm as thermal insulation in the roof, GreenStuf® Sound Solution in all partition walls and GreenStuf® ASB 5 against all concrete walls for both thermal and acoustic insulation.


Michael O’Sullivan, Bull and O’Sullivan Architecture 

Born and bred in Otahuhu, he played for Otahuhu rugby club and currently stays at the base of Mangere mountain. A draughtsman and a Registered Architect, Michael is a practical and sensible thinker that holds a position at Auckland University Teaching Studio and supervising Master Students’ thesis work.

He enjoys physically building and making furniture for his residential clients.

His success as an Architect has been well documented in the public eye.