Dr Albert Refiti looks back with nostalgia as he describes what he calls his ‘classic village upbringing’ in Samoa before coming to New Zealand to continue his education.
Leali’ifano is Albert’s matai (chief) title and is from Vaovai in Falealili however he was raised in Fasito'o Uta.
Albert’s grounding in academia started with the bible and the church, learning from the faifeau (minister) in his village. He credits the bible as the first text to allow him to imagine possibilities, and for him it was his first experience with the power of interpretation.
Albert received his architectural degree from the University of Auckland in 1990. He worked as an architect for a year before travelling to London where he continued his work before starting a Master’s degree at the University of Westminster.
He returned to New Zealand teaching part-time at the University of Auckland as well as other teaching roles at Unitec and Manukau Institute of Technology, before starting at AUT in 2002. He has been here ever since.
Teaching at AUT has been interesting for Albert as his programme bridges physical architectural practice and concept-driven creative visual arts. This allows him to teach in areas that cross realities and fantasy.
AUT has enabled Albert to pursue research on Pacific concepts of vā (space), architecture and art. As an independent thinker and researcher, he likes to develop his own work and take his own time, and AUT has allowed him to find his feet as an academic.
His PhD thesis on why the notion of vā has is becoming a concern for Pacific people in the diaspora is titled Māvae and Tōfiga: Spatial Exposition of the Samoan Cosmogony and Architecture.
Having others share a similar area of research is exciting for Albert.
“I have postgraduate students who are Pacific and Māori who have a similar focus. That’s been good to develop.”
His latest joint research project, Pacific Spaces with Tina Engels-Schwarzpaul, sees the two convene an international group of academics who meet twice a year. They contribute to a publication on Pacific notions of space and how they are enacted in different cultures around the Pacific.
He feels privileged and thankful for the people around him and the opportunities he’s been granted throughout life. International recognition of his work is one of Albert’s proudest moments.