A Hong Kong-born Briton who had made great contributions to the development of the city’s public works in the 1950s and 1960s, died in London on Friday. He was 105.
Dubbed the “father of Hong Kong public housing”, Michael Wright was known for setting the so-called Wright Principle, which allowed tenants of public homes to have their own kitchens and toilets without having to share them with others, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
Born in Hong Kong in 1912, Wright, whose grandfather and father both had served in the government, went to the United Kingdom to attend schools when he was eight.
After becoming a professional architect and working in London for several years, he decided to return to Hong Kong in 1938 and joined the former Public Works Department like his father.
During the war, Wright joined the Royal Hong Kong Regiment, also known as “The Volunteers”, to fight the Japanese army.
He was caught and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp in Sham Shui Po, where the experience of sharing a toilet with dozens of other inmates offered him insights that proved useful in addressing the needs of public housing tenants later.
Wright returned to his post at the department after the war. Since then, he had been in charge of major public works projects. He was hugely in favor of building the MTR railway system.
He became director of public works in 1963.
In postwar Hong Kong, he saw the masses having to share kitchens and toilets in dismal surroundings.
Wright called such conditions “appalling and degrading”, and as chief architect of the department, advocated for every flat in public housing estates to have its own kitchen and toilet.
His efforts finally paid off when the Hong Kong Housing Society launched its first public rental housing estate in 1952.
Designed according to Wright’s suggestions, Sheung Li Uk in Sham Shui Po was equipped with a kitchen and a toilet in each flat. It became the standard, known as the Wright Principle, for other public rental housing estates built later.
In honor of his contributions, the Housing Society named a public rental housing estate in Tai Hang after his Chinese name, Lai Tak Tsuen. Its construction was completed in 1975.
Wright retired from the civil service in 1973. When he visited Hong Kong in 2005, the last time he did so, he remarked that many of the city’s buildings looked ugly.
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