Albert looks back with nostalgia as he describes what he calls his ‘classic village upbringing’ in Samoa before coming to New Zealand, when he was 13, to continue his education.
Leali’ifano, Albert’s matai (chief) title, 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.
He received his architecture degree from the University of Auckland in 1990 and worked as an architect for a year. He then travelled to London where he continued his work as an architect before starting a master’s degree at the University of Westminster.
Leaving his master's degree unfinished, he came back to New Zealand and worked as an architect again, and started teaching at the University of Auckland’s School of Architecture part-time. He took on other teaching roles at Unitec and then at Manukau Institute of Technology's School of Visual Arts before he started 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, which 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 recently completed thesis - on why the notion of vā has become a concern for Pacific people in the diaspora and how Samoan people came up with this idea - is titled Māvae and Tōfiga: Spatial Exposition of the Samoan Cosmogony and Architecture.
Having others share a similar area of research is exciting. “I have postgraduate students who are Pacific and Māori who have a similar kind of focus. That’s been quite good to develop.”
His latest research project, Pacific Spaces with Tina Engels-Schwarzpaul, sees the two convene an international group of academics who meet twice a year and put together publications 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. For him international recognition of his work, where people from around the world read and like his research, is one of his proudest moments.
Last updated: 13-Jun-2016 3.13pm
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