Aboriginal Environments Research Centre

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Charmaine ‘Ilaiu Talei

Email: c.ilaiutalei@uq.edu.au

Phone: 07 3365 3660

Thesis & Topic: 

Materialising anew the fale Tonga

Charmaine ‘Ilaiu Talei

Charmaine is a trained architect and architectural researcher. She is currently a PhD candidate at Aboriginal Environments Research Centre, School of Architecture, advised by Professor Paul Memmott and Dr Tim O’Rourke. Her work is devoted to understanding how Pacific communities, make, build and ‘design’ houses in Island and urban contexts and the factors that influence such buildings.


Charmaine’s PhD project examines how and why building material changes have occurred throughout the development of Tongan domestic fale architecture in order to evaluate the relevant factors that will shape the future of coconut materials in such architecture.

Fale in the Tongan language means a building. This thesis is most interested in the material developments of the domestic building, or the house, in Tongan architecture. There have been hints of critical material changes in prehistory—archival documents and in oral recordings—when Tongan people and neighbouring island groups Fiji and Samoa were sharing architectural ideas. The material changes at this time were subtle, because it involved technological advancements of similar plant materials and evolving architectural forms. However these early historical accounts trace the attitudes Tongans had towards new building materials and technologies at that time.

From the mid-nineteenth century there was at first a gradual change towards imported materials leading to a more drastic mid-twentieth century building material change. Within two hundred years since the first western permanent settler in 1797, foreign materials have entirely replaced all coconut and other fibrous building materials that were once used on domestic fale. In analysing this period of prehistoric to current material changes, the thesis aims to understand the nuances of these building material shifts. It will evaluate the changes under social, cultural or economic factors that have motivated or impeded the material change.

  • 2011 ‘Ilaiu Talei, C. Bure: product of spirituality and romance, 28th SAHANZ Conference Proceedings, 7-10 July
  • 2011 ‘Ilaiu, C. “Building Tonga’s Western Fale”, in Architecture NZ 2.2011 (March/April 2011), pp 61–63
  • 2009 ‘Ilaiu,C. ‘Inasi: Tonga’s Reason for its Western Fale, 26th SAHANZ Conference Proceedings, 2-5 July
  • 2009 ‘Ilaiu,C. “Tauhi Va: The first space”, in Interstices 10 Journal, On Adam’s House in the Pacific, pp 20 - 31