Michael Wright – a colonial-era official who shaped the way public housing was built in Hong Kong – has died in London at the age of 105.
The architect was instrumental in building resettlement blocks, hospitals, and other community structures in post-war Hong Kong, but is perhaps best known for setting the standard for public housing, in which each flat must be equipped with its own kitchen and lavatory.
This “Wright principle” – where privacy and human dignity are factored in to the design of public housing units – has been followed since the 1950s.
In an interview with RTHK’s “The Pulse” programme in London last year, Wright said he was happy that this will be an important part of his legacy.
“I’m glad that I’ll be remembered in HK for that if for nothing else, because I think that human dignity is that we should be able to carry on with private ablutions in private, not in public”, Wright said.
He had set his goal of improving living conditions for the people of Hong Kong early on – as a prisoner of war in a Japanese prison camp in Sham Shui Po during World War II. Wright had served in the Royal Hong Kong Regiment as a volunteer soldier.
“During the camp, doing time in the prison camp,” he said, “I gave quite a lot of thought to whether it was possible to improve living conditions in Hong Kong for the ordinary people.”
Wright said in his civilian job, he often came across people living in overcrowded conditions, with entire families crammed into a single room with no lavatory, and no privacy. Often, the entire block had to share a dry latrine located on the roof.
“It was disgusting that people lived in that way,” he said.
Michael Wright was born in Hong Kong in 1912, and lived at the Peak until his family moved away when he was eight. He would return to his childhood home in 1938 after becoming an architect.
The iconic public housing estate, Lai Tak Tsuen in Tai Hang, is named after Wright.