Naomi stead is an architectural academic, scholar and critic based in Melbourne, Australia. She has taken on various research fellowships, starting from being a research fellow in ATCH, 2009. Currently, she is a HOD of architecture at Monash University, Melbourne. Her publication record includes 16 book chapters, 28 journal articles, 38 conference papers, and 12 industry reports.
Apart from this, she is a widely published architecture critic and is currently a columnist for both The Conversation and Places Journal. Her architectural criticism works are published in a wide range of professional journals and magazines like Architecture Australia, Artichoke, Monument, Pol Oxygen and Australian Design Review. She has also written about the history and future of architectural criticism.
These were the few areas Stead engaged with, in her research works:
- The history, theory and writing of architectural criticism and architecture in general.
- Representations of architects and architecture
- The material culture of the architectural workplace and visual sociology in architecture
- Gender equity in architectural practice
- Urban cultural geography and walking as an aesthetic practice, the tourist culture in cities
- Thing theory, artefactual, and objecthood in architecture, miniaturisation in architecture
Some of her prominent works include those mentioned below.
Woman, Equity and Architecture
Naomi Stead initiated and led the Equity and Diversity project, a research project funded by the Australian Research Council, involving seven other researchers – Karen Burns, Justine Clark, Gill Matthews on, Amanda Roan, Gillian Whitehouse, Julie Willis and Sandra Kaji-O’Grady. The project, which ran from 2011-2014, mapped patterns of women’s participation in the architectural profession in Australia and sought to understand why women are not represented as much at the senior management level.
The research also put forward a few ideas and strategies for change. It identified barriers for women in the field, the impacts of women’s participation in architecture and solutions, ideas and the need for a change. This was soon accompanied by the launch of Parlour: Woman, Equity, Architecture – a platform to bridge the gender gap that exists in the historically male-dominant profession of architecture. This is conducted through research, discussions and essays.
The site is structured as a forum that encourages discussions about personal experiences from everyone. It aims to highlight the bias towards genders in terms of the pay scale or upward mobility. Although based in Australia, it is an international open source for everyone in the profession around the world.
Criticism in / and / of Crisis: The Australian Context
In the essay Criticism in / and / of Crisis: The Australian Context, Naomi Stead talks about architectural criticism, journal publishing and their relationship with the Architectural practice itself. The essay has been presented at the conference ‘Critical Architecture’ in Barlett school of architecture, London and serves as a chapter in the book ‘Critical Architecture’.
People in Australia usually say architects are not critical enough because they are biased towards their community, hence in this essay Stead examines whether the crisis exists. Her other essay, ‘Three Complaints about architectural criticism’ is taken as an object of enquiry.
This essay acts as both a justification and an apology, an argument and a polemic about the role of architectural criticism and its significance in architectural practice. It articulates some of the commonly held, but under-examined and lazy assumptions of the field of criticism, and encourages people to start more discussions and research on these assumptions. She explains to her readers the real meaning of criticism and mentions that architecture is not about fault-finding. It is also better done in the early stages rather than after the completion of the project. The chapter concluded with a few paragraphs about what good architectural criticism is and its significance in the context.
“Architecture will always need interlocutors to speak of and for it, to analyse and describe and evaluate it. These interlocutors are architects, certainly, but they are also critics, and both have a crucial role to play in architectural culture.”
Maps Of Sydney
Maps of Sydney, curated by Naomi Stead, is a project that aimed to create maps using visual graphics and represented different perceptions of the city. The six neatly folded maps are enclosed in an old-fashioned envelope, along with an essay by Naomi Stead. The maps were not factual or to scale, but it was recognisably map-like.
The creator’s feelings, experiences, actions, wishes and memories are what shaped the maps. And therefore, each map is very different from the others. While one map is based on the avian-named residences of the city, another one is based on the political orientation of governments since 1901.
To briefly understand the avian residences mapping, it is important to know that 938 residences in Sydney are named with Avian surnames. In the map, each location is pinpointed with a silhouette of the species of the bird and it turned out to represent 36 species of birds that flock together. Bulbul, Eagle, Quail, Swallow and Wren were some of the species.
Map of Sydney: Fish Surnames and Map of Sydney: Celestial Surnames follow the same logic and map residences named after fish species and celestial bodies respectively. The maps are demographically accurate as well as poetic and visual. The map reveals different sides of Sydney. While it might look like a random flock of birds or random constellations, it has all been carefully plotted with Sydney as the background, exploring the potential of storytelling through mapping.
Three national institutions: the National Library of Australia, the National Gallery of Australia and the Australian National Maritime Museum, have collected and exhibited this work.
Portraits of Practice
Portraits of Practice consists of two photographic series that aim to document architects and architectural workplaces. The main series consists of 200 photographs that capture the people and work culture of three large architecture offices in Sydney, Bates Smart, BVN Architecture and PTW Architects. Across a single day in 2012. The series of pictures talks about an ordinary day in the life of a (woman) architect while also increasing the visibility of women Architects and their achievements within architecture.
The second collection of photographs include snapshots of attendees at the 2010 national conference of the Australian Institute of Architects. ‘Do architects really wear black?’ These were the kind of questions that Dr Sandra Kaji-O’Grady, Dr Kate Sweetapple and Naomi Stead wanted to answer with this second series called Documentation: The Visual Sociology of Architects. This revealed the diversity of age, gender and ethnicity present within the architectural community, challenging the stereotypes about what an architect must look like in the male-dominated industry.
The photographs are juxtaposed with a series of infographics and quotations from the participants of the research. These act as a powerful reminder of the under-representation of women and the challenges they face in Australian architecture.