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Pou Manawa New Zealand
Pou Manawa New Zealand

Pou Manawa New Zealand


LSAA 2011 Design Award Entry (Cat 7, 7321) Pou Manawa - Auckland International Airport


Pou Manawa (Maori name for the Tree) is the heart of the new retail centre at Auckland International Airport, it stands proud where people gather, coming and going from their journeys around the world.

Fabric Structure Systems were approached with a brief to develop the significant sculptural piece for the Auckland International Airport’s retail departures area.


Pou Manawa takes the form of a sculptural tree, crafted from SEFAR® Architecture fabric & tensioned into place, creating a continuous light translucent surface, which is rear projected to bring the Tree to life, with various natural & traditional Maori themes. 


Fabric Structure Systems were approached with a brief to develop a significant sculptural piece for the Auckland International Airport’s retail departures area. The Pou Manawa project required a broad range of disciplines and collaboration, Fabric Structure Systems were critical is assembling the right team of people, experts in their respective fields, to ensure the project’s success.

Initial discussions explored the use of various fabrics and structural forms to achieve the desired shape. Once the concept of the tree and its form was settled on, the challenge became finding a structural solution to support and tension the fabric between the ground level and the roof, which had little structural capacity.

FSS engaged Wade Design Engineers to develop the structural solution for the tree, which resulted in a massive perimeter truss ring suspended from the roof structure, which the canopy fabric hangs from and gives its shape in the top section. The sculptural trunk base then provides a fixed point, which the fabric is tensioned down to giving the fabric a clear uninterrupted surface for projection.

After much testing of architectural fabrics, SEFAR Architecture EL-50-TO, was selected for its combined structural strength and projection qualities. Testing of fabrics compared light projection qualities & the fabrics ability to hold an image under different light scenarios. Seam detailing & patterning was also carefully prototyped to determine the most suitable affect.

The projection team, then developed a projection solution using 24 theatrical type gobo projectors and 40 LED lights to generate a continuous 360 degree image on the complex patterned internal surface of the tree. Lastly artists where engaged to develop the content & work with the projection team to achieve the final result.



Fabric – SEFAR Architecture EL-55-TO PTFE

The fabric was carefully selected after extensive testing to find a fabric suitable to fabricate into the designed shape, in terms of tensile strength, but more importantly that had the light transmission & projection characteristics for rear projecting.

Tree Trunk - Maranti Plywood

American Oak veneer Maranti plywood was selected for the tree trunks ‘petals’. Maranti plywood was selected for its quality & stability. The veneer was selected for its grain.

Structure - Steel

All structural supporting components were fabricated in steel.


Fabric –  Special attention was paid to the fabric seams, as the seam lines where treated as an integral part of the design of the tree. Numerous samples & prototypes were done of the seam details; varying seam width, stitching types, translucency of double sided tape used; all to determine the best effect for light projection. Seams were specifically arranged in a random fashion, with extra dummy seams added to improve the randomness.

As there were 4 building columns that fell within the tree, field joints in the fabric membrane were required. We investigated a number of options for making the site joins, but opted for setting up a machine on site & sewing the final seams around the columns in position. Sewing seams on a scaffold stage 9m above the ground proved logistical challenging but ensured the field joints did not differ from any other seam.

Tree Trunk - The organically arranged plywood petals that formed the tree trunk, required a substantial sub frame. The sub-frame was fabricated from laser cut plates that where welded together to form T-section rings for strength & design accuracy. The 250+ individually unique petals where each supported by three individually welded cleats, that required a setout tolerance of +/-2mm to ensure a consistent negative detail was maintained between each petal.

Structure - The ceiling truss ring & base tension ring were all fabricated in steel. Design accuracy was paramount to ensure a perfect fit with the fabric & fabric seam lines. Extensive site surveying was also undertaken to ensure that tree components installed in the building ceiling & ground floor all aligned when the fabric was installed.


Completing this project required close collaboration between a diverse group of professions & stakeholders. FSS teamed with engineers, steel fabricators, projection & lighting specialists, artists. As a team we then collaborated with the client’s architects, structural engineers, main contractors & client representatives.

Construction of the tree was part of a large redevelopment plan for Auckland International Airport’s departure terminal. As the terminal remained fully operational during construction, the installation of the tree was a drawn out process to accommodate the sequencing of site works, necessary to maintain airport operations.

A large 9m high, 30m x 30m bird cage scaffold deck was set up to complete all ceiling level works, while airport operations carried on below. Work on the scaffold deck comprised:

  • Installation of perimeter truss ring into ceiling cavity

  • 24 Smart Mac Projectors & 40 LED lighting stage bars

  • Installation of Sefar fabric membrane to perimeter truss ring (which was then secured in the ceiling in a protective cover, for 2 months while other site works where completed).

All components of the tree had to be designed & fabricated so that they could be craned up to an external level 2 platform, then man handled through long access corridors & double sets of doors into the departure hall where the tree was installed. Most material deliveries had to be performed late at night & early morning, outside of the airports peak operating hours.

Maintenance of the tree & projection equipment was carefully considered. All the projection & lighting equipment was designed around an existing cat walk network for access & maintenance purposes. The interior to the tree was also sealed off in the ceiling void, using block out fabric to stop any ingress of light from the ceiling services space, as well as prevent ingress of dust, which would settle on the interior surface of the fabric & affect the rear projection. The trunk was specially designed so that specific petals could be removed to gain access to an internal maintenance platform at the base of the fabric.


Project Number: 7321

Title:  Pou Manawa

Location: Queens Wharf, Quay St, Auckland NZ

Entrant: Fabric Structure Systems

Role: Design/Fabricator/ Installer

Client: Waterfront Auckland / NZ Government

Architect:  Ignite Architects

Structural Engineer:  Wade Design Engineers

Builder: Fabric Structure Systems

Fabricator: Fabric Structure Systems

Steelwork etc: Red Steel