Central is red, Shau Kei Wan is blue, and whichever MTR station you enter or exit, there is a dedicated hue that everyone should notice. Besides the color notations associated with network lines — Island line’s blue or Tseung Kwan O line’s purple — stations are also assigned distinct colors, at least compared with adjacent stations.
More than just beautifying the premises, these colors serve different purposes and have special meanings. Let’s explore the main reasons for their selection and what purpose do they serve.
SCMP’s Young Post spoke to Andrew Mead, the chief architect of the MTR Corporation, the operator of the city’s famous railway system. Here’s an excerpt from the discussion about MTR’s station colors.
1. The assignment of colors help establish the identity of stations. Because MTR stops are often confined to underground, passengers cannot rely on nearby landmarks to indicate they’ve reached their destinations, so colors provide frequent users a visual hint associated with their surroundings. Also, in the earlier decades of the railway system, literacy is a concern where some people cannot read or write both Chinese and English signs. Colors then helped people navigate their way.
2. Colors offer the right balance inside stations. Most railway carriages are located deep underground, which can be dark and gloomy. By painting them with bright colors, underground platforms create a positive glow and brighten up an otherwise dark labyrinth several meters below the ground.
3. Terminal or interchange stations are reserved with bold colors. For example, Mong Kok, Tsuen Wan, and Central stations adopt sharp red color to help remind passengers they are at the final station or need to make a transfer from one line to another. As more stations have been added to the network over the years, this earlier standard is no longer strictly observed.
4. Colors are also chosen based on the name or characteristic of a station. Choi Hung is translated as rainbow, hence adopting the rainbow palette at Choi Hung Station. Similar to Lai Chi Kok (“lai chi” means lychees) and Wong Tai Sin (“wong” says yellow), which adopted the colors closely related to their names.
5. A combination of colors may also better describe and depict a station. Diamond Hill is predominantly black but has small bits of white pebbles crafted to produce a sparkling effect of a diamond when viewed from various perspectives.
6. Natural features close to the station are also used. For instance, Ho Man Tin station is located on the part of a hill, so green was an obvious choice for station color. Whampoa station, being close to the Victoria Harbour, used blue as its station color.
7. Colors are also chosen based on personal characteristics. At least when we talk about the airport express line. Sir Norman Foster, the architect behind Hong Kong International Airport, HSBC headquarters in Central, and many other iconic structures globally, has earned the moniker “Foster grey” for his preference for this shade for the majority of his projects. Therefore, in being consistent with this choice, the MTR also adopted the grey theme.
8. Newer stations will choose colors that integrate art. Mead said that Ocean Park, for example, uses different shades of blue to represent the various elements found in the aqua-themed attraction. And more than just colors, Ocean Park station also has art sculpture symbolizing the movement of a school of fish.
Hong Kong’s MTR is one of the sources of pride and a testament to the city’s efficient transport system. We often commend it for its cleanliness, efficiency, and relatively affordable way to get around the city. So it’s not surprising if the colors of individual stations come secondary to many of us.