Who is he? Philip Liao is a Hong Kong-based Canadian architect and the founder of Philip Liao and Partners, which takes on everything from giant mixed-use projects on the mainland to hotel design. His firm won an award from the Urban Renewal Authority in 2004 for its plan for the controversial revamping of Lee Tung, or Wedding Card, Street, and most recently completed the Yin Serviced Apartments (below) in Central. Liao studied architecture at New York's Cornell University. 'I definitely think more in 3D - I'm not a words person,' Liao says. 'Cornell's programme was hardcore but I enjoyed it; there was definitely that late-night studio atmosphere.' When did he get his big break? After having spent 10 years with Wong Tung International in Hong Kong as associate director of design, a moment of inspiration gave him the boost he needed to branch out on his own. In 2002, Wong Tung put in a bid for the West Kowloon cultural project with a large United States firm but Liao and a small team decided to try something different. 'A few colleagues and I asked permission to do a private entry on our own time,' he remembers. They won second place, behind Foster and Partners' 'canopy' design. How does he keep up to speed with trends? 'I visit new buildings, piazzas or parks and experience them, photograph them,' he says. 'Architecture is to be experienced spatially, so reading a book only brings you so far. You should actually be in it and feel the scale of the space, the mix of the materials, the vistas.' Is the future in good hands? As a visiting lecturer, Liao has ventured inside Hong Kong universities and he's enthusiastic about what he sees. However, he sympathises with the lack of practical opportunities students have here. 'A young architect abroad would probably start with houses, which often have plenty of spaces to play around with,' he says, noting that here architects cut their teeth on 40-storey residential blocks - 'lots of repetitive units on expensive land, where every foot has to be maximised'. What's he done lately? Liao's team was given a free rein when designing the Yin Serviced Apartments and endowed the property with strong ties to its location. 'It's raw and urban-rustic, which is very much in tune with the character of the area,' he explains. The building combines exposed brick work and copper piping with glass partitions between living and bathing spaces and great carved stone baths. Though hi-tech, the apartments, Liao feels, are in tune with the times. 'Power pinstripes and opulence are a little out right now,' he says, adding: 'Even very well-paid young executives don't necessarily want to live in a palace any more.'