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Building more than blocks

By  Rebecca Lo (Xinhua)

09:22, July 03, 2012

(China Daily)

They say that a photo is worth a 1,000 words. In the early 1970s, Queen Elizabeth II was at the height of her reign. One of the pleasures of her job was sailing to Hong Kong aboard HMY Britannia. Architect Donald Liao, too, was at the peak of his career, as the first Chinese director of Hong Kong's Housing Authority.

On one of the Queen's visits, he took her on a tour, a visit to Oi Man, one of his new housing estates. A photo captured this historic visit: Liao pointing at a design feature, with her looking on attentively and former governor Murray MacLehose relegated to the background.

"Public housing in the 60s to 80s was the pride of Hong Kong," Liao recalls. "Every single royal family member was shown public housing estates. I was at the Housing Authority for nearly 30 years, though the last five years in government were more political, as I participated in the handover negotiations. I was on the British side but I had a Chinese face."

Liao never intended to be an architect. He originally wanted to go to the United States to be a cowboy. His father, the mayor of Liao's hometown in western Taiwan and a sixth generation landowner in the area, thought that his favorite son should learn some English first. British Hong Kong was closer than California, and 17-year-old Liao was sent there.

At St. Joseph's College, along with Jackson Wong and Norbert Chan, he answered a University of Hong Kong advert calling for students to enroll in its new architecture program. The year was 1950.

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