Our Story

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In 1954, Christopher Fenwick and Guy Powell joined forces to create what is now known as Powell Fenwick Consultants – helping shape the buildings and structures we see today.

The company has since gone from strength to strength and become one of the largest multidisciplinary engineering consulting businesses in the South Island, building a reputation for delivering quality and detailed services.

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A brief timeline of our evolution

In 1938, Guy began working as an engineering consultant from his home in Riccarton, using the namesake EGS Powell Ltd.

By the mid-forties, Guy made the shift to a central city office and employed graduate engineers to assist through the post-war construction boom.

Key projects consisted of education buildings such as Hokitika High School and Cobden School, churches including the Convent of the Good Shepherd and St Stephens in Shirley, and pubs such as Somerset Hotel and Club Hotel.

Honouring a pact made while attending university some 30 years earlier, Guy and his friend, Chris, formed a partnership in 1954. A short time later, they changed the company’s name to better reflect their partnership. With Chris’ expertise, Powell Fenwick now offered a wider variety of building services including structural, civil, mechanical and electrical.

A long list of community halls, freezing works and other rural-export focused projects to match the growth in national exports were worked on during this time. In line with the country’s bridge building programme, the high-profile Waltham Road Railway and Colombo Street bridges - among many others – were also built.

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It was a busy time for Powell Fenwick with the company expanding and setting up offices in Invercargill, Wellington, Napier, Auckland, Timaru and Papua New Guinea.

Work on national bridges continued. One of the most prominent of these was the Colombo/Moorhouse flyover, which was later entered for the NZ Institute of Engineers Design Award.

In the late sixties, one of Powell Fenwick’s structural engineers, Barry Ramsay, obtained a scholarship to study in England for a year. From this, he went onto design the first building in Christchurch with seismic design.

It was time for the founders to hang up their hats, with Chris retiring in 1976 and Guy retiring only three years later at the age of 73. Longstanding employee Barry was now at the helm.

Throughout this decade, New Zealand business was rocked by inflation and nationwide unemployment. A restructure ultimately led to Powell Fenwick focusing on its Christchurch-based business.

“I came up with three strategies: to stay in Christchurch; to focus mainly on the local market; and to manage risk by building up the multidisciplinary side of the practice.”
Barry Ramsay, Ex-Managing Director

A commercial property boom led to significant construction in the Christchurch CBD – many of these being Powell Fenwick sites. This included iconic buildings such as the ANZ Bank on Victoria Street, Heatherlea Apartments, Chateau Blanc Suites in Cranmer Square, refurbishment of Lincoln College’s Ivey Hall, and Christchurch Polytechnic’s Nursing and Science Block, to name a few.

In the late eighties, it was bad news as the stock market lost a quarter of its value in a single morning. For the next few years, construction ground to a halt; the boom was over.

Powell Fenwick weathered the ensuing recession to double its market share with key projects, including various Christchurch and Dunedin Hospital upgrades.

By 1993, tourism surges and increased immigration spurred the economy forward. Multiple offices were refurbished to hotels - including the former 11-storey housing corporation building, which is now the 180-room Millennium Hotel. Banks, education and retirement buildings were a key staple to the Powell Fenwick portfolio during this time.

The early noughties also brought with it plenty of change with the introduction of AutoCAD technology to the office, as well as the new Building Code. The building code impacted fire safety and egress design, and it soon became clear this was an engineering discipline given its complexity. This ultimately led to the formation of the company’s Fire department.

Residential property provided a steady flow of work throughout the early 2000s thanks to a reduction in the official cash rate.

2004 saw Barry Ramsay finally retire: His legacy lives on in the fun, family culture Powell Fenwick upholds to this day.

By 2008, another recession was in full effect, however Powell Fenwick’s diverse portfolio kept the company moving. The $22M University of Canterbury School of Biological Sciences building and the $113M Te Hononga Christchurch Civic Building for the council staff ensured smoother sailing during this trying time for many businesses.

The 2010s were a difficult decade for Christchurch and largely defined by the devastating 2010-11 earthquakes - and all the destruction they brought to our families, friends and fellow Cantabrians. A near endless stream of work resulted as Powell Fenwick teams navigated people through the post-earthquake recovery.

The years that followed involved many earthquake inspections, repairs and rebuilds, which are still continuing to this day. Landmark replacement projects include Tūranga central city library and Ara’s Kahukura building, as well as new initiatives such as the He Puna Taimoana New Brighton Hot Pools, and many more.

With a steady stream of work, the company’s size has doubled in just ten years to over 120 staff.

Powell Fenwick currently comprises of Structural, Mechanical, Electrical, Fire, Civil, Hydraulic, Acoustic and GSAP engineering consultants, providing services locally and nationwide – continuing the legacy of its founders and the many people who have made the company what it is today.