Furniture design curator Richard Munao has spent two decades importing design classics from around the world. But this design doyen has also spent the last decade champion an equally important passion: diversity.
August 22nd, 2017
Munao, the man behind brand Cult and Corporate Culture, has just chalked up 10 years supporting the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) and its annual International Women’s Day Scholarship.
Each year, NAWIC auctions off a Cult classic – whether that’s an Arne Jacobsen Egg chair or a Hans Wegner Wing chair – with the proceeds funding a research project that challenges existing thinking and outlines practical recommendations to enhance the Australian property and construction industry.
Over the decade, the scholarship has raised more than $80,000 – but the money is just part of the story. Munao offers the Cult showroom to NAWIC for events and provides space for the scholarship winners, which he says reflects his team’s passion for diversity. “We want to do more than just throw money at the problem,” he says.
“Just recently I was launching a new Australian design collection, in which all four designers were men. This might not be a surprise, because 99 per cent of the industrial designers in our stable are men. But we need to ask: ‘why is this?’. Having worked closely with NAWIC, I ask these questions. We all need to.”
“Our industry has been a man’s world. But we need to change that.”
Munao says NAWIC’s sustained efforts are challenging perceptions across the entire spectrum of the industry.
The 2016 scholarship recipient, Natalie Galea, is exploring how rigid work practices, narrow career pathways and informal talent management practices undermine women’s participation and success in the sector. Lauren Kajewski, who took out the scholarship in 2015, looked at how school-based engagement could increase the pipeline of talented women in construction.
Diversity isn’t the only topic under the microscope though. Michaela Sheahan examined how hospital design can encourage collaboration and innovation, while architect Rana Abboud investigated how architects can apply augmented reality on projects to deliver better design.
“Better design” has been a common thread throughout Munao’s career. His love of woodwork at school led to a career as a cabinet maker. Working his way through the furniture business, from being on the tools to customer service and sales, has given him a deep appreciation for quality furniture. It’s also given him deep insights into the industry and its workings.
So how has the industry changed in the 10 years he’s been supporting NAWIC?
“There’s definitely a lot more collaboration,” he says. Building interiors, once an afterthought, are now considered from the earliest stages as part of the architecture.
Munao thinks this planned approach has been, to some degree, driven by the soft skills women bring to the table. “In my experience, women tend to be better at planning and collaboration than men, who are more focused on the end result rather than how to get to the result.”
This collaborative attitude is good for everyone – from the client, who gets something almost purpose built, to the environment, he says.
He’s also seen a significant shift in the way the industry approaches sustainability. But he worries that, in the hunt for new Green Star digs, tenants are forgetting what they leave behind.
“They walk away from floors of furniture and don’t think about the legacy.”
To address this, Munao has developed the Cultivated program, which “makes sure the furniture goes to a good home” after the first owners moves on. This may mean reupholstering or reworking the piece to give it an extended life.
“We are saying to our clients that if they are going to walk away from a fitout, we will take the furniture off their hands, refurbish it and put it back into the market. We will make your rubbish someone else’s Picasso.”
Munao is passionate about “fertilising the grass” in the industry.
“There is enough for everyone to do well, but if we keep stripping out the resources, there will be nothing left. We have to keep putting back in, and thinking long term. Short termism might be good for the bottom line, but our businesses need to be sustainable.”
Ultimately, Munao is an optimist, which is why he supports NAWIC.
“I gain hope from the people in the industry who are passionate about positive change – people who have a cause and a reason for being. I like to surround myself with people like that.”
It’s these designers and dreamers that Munao will continue to support with the NAWIC scholarship. “It’s inspiring to work with people who are reinvesting in our industry.”
The NAWIC NSW Awards for Excellence will be held in Sydney on Thursday 24 August 2017. Tickets are available online. Applications for the 2018 IWD Scholarship will open early 2018.
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