The many colours of the Hong Kong MTR

As you travel across the Hong Kong MTR, you’ll find stations of all colours.

Red.

Quiet platform at Central station

Blue.

Station sign at Admiralty

Pink.

Pink school uniforms, pink mosaic tiles

Yellow.

Station name at Yau Tong

Green.

Crosspassage between the narrow platforms at the west end of Lok Fu station

Grey.

Station name at Tsim Sha Tsui

Brown.

A mix of mosaic tiles and fibreglass panels at Sheung Wan MTR station

Purple.

Station name at Shau Kei Wan

And rainbow.

Choi Hung station sign

The reason? The South China Morning Post talked to the MTR Corporation’s chief architect to find out.

The main reason bright colours were adopted when the first line opened in the 1970s was to lighten up the subway system, according to Andrew Mead, the MTR Corporation’s chief architect. With no windows or natural light, underground platforms can be gloomy. Bright colours are associated with beauty, and they bring a dash of that to the mostly subterranean stations, he says.

The corporation could have chosen a neutral white design. But Mead says an important factor in picking different colours was function. Underground, where there are no landmarks to look out for like when you’re travelling by bus or car, colour helped differentiate the MTR stations, and gave each their own identity. That was important, Mead says, because “back in the 1970s, there was still a high level of illiteracy” in the city. It was not until 1971 that Hong Kong launched a programme of free compulsory education.

“If you can’t read, either English or Chinese, how would you recognise a station?” The palette was therefore deliberately planned to help commuters navigate the network.

With thought put into which colour should be used at each station.

For key stations, Mead says, different shades of red were used. The bold red in the Tsuen Wan, Mong Kok and Central stations was intended to alert passengers that they had arrived at an interchange or terminus.

In developing the colour coding, Mead says, the MTR Corp was careful to avoid using the same tone for successive stations. For instance, blue is the hue at Mei Foo, in sharp contrast to the red stations of Lai King and Lai Chi Kok.

However, it takes some lateral thinking to make sense of the colour used at a few of the platforms. Some were simply derived from the Chinese names of the stops. For example, the rainbow colours of Choi Hung station are a vivid example of the literal translation from Cantonese: choi hung means rainbow. Yellow is the colour of Wong Tai Sin station because the word wong means yellow. Lai Chi Kok station is a pinky red because lai chi means lychee. Prince Edward station is purple because it’s commonly associated with royalty in Britain, the city’s former colonial ruler.

Other stations were designed using colours that take into account the local environment.

“Whampoa station is blue because it’s close to the water. Ho Man Tin station is green because it’s a part of the hill, and that’s really how that colour was chosen. Nothing’s really more sophisticated than that, and this makes it distinctive,” Mead says.

Or the lack of colour.

The MTR Corp broke with tradition, however, in the design of stations along the Airport Express, which are a more subdued grey. That’s because the company regards it as an extension of the airport, Mead explains. Norman Foster, the British architect who designed the airport – and the HSBC Building in Central – is not known for his use of colour. In fact, in the industry, Mead says, architects often refer to “Foster grey” because it’s his preferred shade for most of his projects.

So MTR architects decided to capitalise on this distinct colouring – or lack of it. “The Airport Express, Kowloon and Hong Kong stations are all the same grey,” Mead says. “As soon as you go to
Kowloon station, as soon as you go to Hong Kong station, you feel like you are at the airport. It’s the extension of the airport from Lantau into the city.”

You can see the array of colours in this mosaic from 2015 – it features 87 stations, predating the 11 stations since added by the Kwun Tong line extension, South Island line, Tuen Ma line and the East Rail line extension projects.


MTR graphic via SCMP

While this photo collage by Jen Ng covers the 95 stations open as of 2021.

Further reading

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