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.
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 too. 2km is the distance we humans happily walk, but available sections this close are tricky or steeply sloping. Lateral thinking is needed especially if the desired result is a cost-effective beautiful places to live. Left over or neglected land typically has challenges such as tricky topography, unfavourable geotechnical conditions, or limited access to services - requiring a different approach to structural systems to avoid major investment in foundations and infrastructure. So Pōneke was established as a specialist urban infill practice. 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 over 20 commissions for urban infill work in our first year - 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.