Pōneke means Wellington. Pōneke is a Maori transliteration of ‘Port Nic’, the name the early sailors and settlers used for Port Nicholson, or Wellington as we now know it.
Pōneke began its creative story with architect Nic Ballara, who in 2016 set up the practice to focus on urban infill projects because of his heart for developing the brownfield sites of Wellington central. Brownfield sites are land in urban areas previously developed where supporting infrastructure already exists, and urban infill development here increases housing density but does not expand the city’s urban footprint. That is because urban infill increases density right next to existing infrastructure, public transport services, abundant amenities such as jobs, schools, shops and parks, meaning such projects ultimately reduce the costs of expanding the city and lower commuter congestion. Essentially urban infill projects are green and good for the planet.
Being a specialist means we insist that Pōneke take on our own projects, and we must also seriously investigate building pre-fabrication for our buildings in order to combat high prices that bespoke work often entails. Because of our hands-on approach Pōneke received has over 40 commissions for urban infill work - not only in Wellington, but also the New Zealand cities of Queenstown and Auckland. We believe our architecture studio’s success is based on a very simple idea; our towns and cities need to grow and regenerate from their centres to be green, vibrant and relevant. This methodology creates cities that care for their environment, have vibrant local economies and are places that attract settlement.
Pōneke is passionate about developing New Zealand’s many unused tricky sites both in and close to our CBD’s, because urban infill can solve our ‘housing crises’ better than rolling out new subdivisions situated farther out.
Nic Ballara is an architect and the director of Poneke Limited.
He has a Bachelor of Building Science from Victoria University, obtained in 1994, and a Bachelor of Architecture (Hons) from Victoria University, obtained in 1996. Since 2001 he has been registered with the New Zealand Institute of Architects, qualified to complete design and building supervision on all categories of buildings. He also started his first practice in 2001, and has been working in architecture for approximately 22 years, with 18 of those years as a registered architect with his own practice in Wellington. However after many successful projects and awards, Nic was restless. He felt that architects - on the whole - did not seem focussed on the right things. It seemed that design was used as a play-thing for the wealthy, rather than to overcome housing shortages or make better cities. Perhaps the late Sir Ian Athfield knew that when he famously said, “Coffee’s done more for cities in the past 25 years than architecture’s done in the past 150!”
Therefore after completing his own urban infill project - the 45 Degree House which screened on Grand Designs NZ in 2015 - Nic realised working in this area required a practice that not only specialised in brownfield sites but also undertook their own developments. He wanted to focus attention on sites 2km from NZ city centres - the distance humans happily walk - but knew development land this close often tricky. Such left over or neglected land typically has challenges such as steep topography, unfavourable geotechnical conditions, or limited access to services. Lateral thinking is always needed if the desired result is cost-effective beautiful places to live, and always requires a different approach to structural systems to avoid major investment in foundations and infrastructure. Nic knew - not only would working on his own projects push the limits of current building practice - but would result in developing specialist infill house skills invaluable for solving the housing crises.
So Nic established Pōneke as a specialist urban infill practice in 2016. The practice has gone from strength to strength, and Pōneke is currently working on New Zealand’s first multi-storey offshore-built modular residential multi-units.