Hello and welcome to our first Feature Friday of 2021. We hope – despite the unusual circumstances – you had a great break and are feeling refreshed as we start the new year.
We have a great line-up of guests that have kindly agreed to be a part of this on-going series, and it starts here with Natasha Bonugli, Global Principle Design at Unispace Global.
WOD: Happy new year first of all – thanks for being our first Feature Friday guest of 2021. Let’s start with your background from the beginning. How did you become involved with the workspace sector?
NB: “I was born and raised in the Boston area to Italian and Portuguese parents. With a father that was a cement mason by trade and a brother who is now a quantity surveyor, the business of construction is clearly in our blood. In high school I was more interested in the arts than any other subject, but all advice steered me away from having a career as an artist.
It was the summer before my senior year in high school where I was first introduced formally to the world of architecture. The Rhode Island School of Design had an intensive pre-college 6 weeks programme where you can choose a major to focus on and still have exposure to other foundation courses helping students build their portfolios for university entrance exams. That six weeks that changed my life forever in many ways and gave me a taste of what was to come in architecture school. Pursuing a career in architecture and design still enabled me to be creative and pull inspiration from the arts.
I hold a bachelor’s degree in architecture (BArch) from Syracuse University. It was a five-year architectural programme that also gave me the opportunity to study abroad in Spain and Italy. Although my graduating class was exposed to AutoCad and other 3D programmes, we were the last year that still produced everything by hand through sketching and drafting. We were on the cusp of the digital disruption that was about to come.
My first real job was for the largest construction company in Boston at that time, Modern Continental. They were delivering the International Terminal at Logan Airport, Boston. The exact terminal that I fly in and out of every time I visit my family in Boston. Working alongside another architect we were in charge of reviewing the quality of the build. I was based on a construction site wearing a hard hat, boots and carrying a clip board with the latest drawings every day…seems so old fashion now looking back.
I then moved on to working for two small architectural practices Stull and Lee Inc. in the Boston area and Suben Dougherty Partnership in New York city. Both practices predominately focused on base build architecture but the one in NY exposed me more to the world of interiors and fast paced fitouts. As you can imagine there is more interior work in NYC than ground up build work.
London came calling in 2005 and within two weeks of arriving I was hired by Chris Brandon of Pringle Brandon (now Perkins & Will) to work directly with him on the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth. Over a period of six years my career developed quickly from designer to associate to project director and I was a part of delivering several award-winning schemes. As there is no reciprocity between the US and UK with regards to accepting architectural qualifications or degrees, I also became RIBA Part III qualified during my time at PB.
In 2011 Woods Bagot poached me run the Workplace Interiors team across Europe. I had run several large-scale teams on singular projects by this time, but this was a great opportunity for me to step into a leadership role where I could manage, develop and grow part of a business. Being a global architecture and interiors practice with both Workplace and Lifestyle clients, Woods Bagot provided the opportunity to gain significant cross sector experience working on residential, hospitality and workplace projects.
Ten years on from my arrival in London I had just started working at BDG architecture + design as a Director of Workplace when Unispace Global approached me to join their business and help them grow the design team across Europe. I saw this opportunity as a new challenge to try and bust the myths about integrated design and construction companies, by challenging established conventions in our industry. Over the past 5 years I have played an active role in the significant growth of the business across Europe by driving design excellence and actively raising brand awareness. As COVID hit the world in 2020 my role transitioned into a global one and my remit expanded to include the Americas.”
WOD: And could you tell us about your current role as Global Design Principle?
NB: “I provide creative design direction and drive design excellence across all our studios in the northern hemisphere, EMEA & The Americas.
I split my time between working on key global enterprise accounts, large scale one off projects, global design initiatives and driving thought leadership across the business; pushing the boundaries within design and inspiring the team to create great products which ultimately elevates our brand position in the market.”
WOD: What does a typical working day for you look like?
NB: “No two days are the same which keeps things interesting. I am doing more daily check-ins with the global team and with clients to show project progress, and this means that my day is broken up into chunks of work based on time zone differences: Europe in the morning, the US in afternoon, and global calls with the APAC team in the evenings.”