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Designing your daily MTR journey: Introducing Andrew Mead

Earlier this year, a member who was looking to learn more about volunteering opportunities at LocalHood spoke to us about a wonderful tour of the art in HK MTR with her friend Andrew!

We loved the idea and thought that it would be great if LocalHood could do the same for its members. She puts us in touch with Andrew sometime pre-summer.

Months have just whizzed past since and today I finally managed to catch up with Andrew Mead over lunch. You might not have heard of Andrew but there is a high chance that you’ve walked past his work in the Hong Kong MTR. Andrew MEAD is the man responsible for the architectural design of the new Hong Kong MTR stations. Additionally, Andrew also oversees the “Art in MTR” programme to create site specific artworks in stations. Andrew moved to Hong Kong in early 2013 from Singapore where he worked at the Land Transport Authority (LTA). He has managed the design of over 200 metro stations in London, Toronto, Singapore & Dubai.

Not only is Andrew a man of important responsibilities he is also a community guy. A big guy with a big heart!! Not for money, not for fame…he is the one who acts as a guide at the informal “Art in MTR” tours like the activity LocalHood has organized on November the 20th, for its community members. “I don’t have to do it but I like to make the public aware of the beauty and the design process behind the different MTR stations. Many people can talk about the history of the MTR stations, how was the ‘hood was before the MTR station came by etc. but they can’t talk about the why’s and how’s of the design process, which can be very insightful… Until the end of the year almost all of my weekends are taken doing tour of the Art in MTR. Some for friends, some for charities and some for social ventures like yours”. Needless to say, I’m impressed!!

He continues, “Every MTR station has a specific color. The color of the Central station in red while that of the connecting HK station is light grey. One of the fun things about my job is that I decide the colours of new MTR stations.”

A bit of history…Back in the 1970s when the MTR system was started as a mode of mass transit in HK, the city faced a substantial problem of literacy. Many residents couldn’t read either English or Chinese. So the original architect of the MTR came up with the ingenious idea of using colors to help identify the different stations and people navigate the system.

And what about the lovely art works in the MTR stations? How do they work?

The programme is a little over 20 years old, which is about half as old as the earliest MTR stations. Over the past 20 years, around 80 art pieces created by local and international artists have been in installed at Hong Kong MTR stations. Home to one of the largest collections of public art in Hong Kong, MTR Corporation has thus created many unique photo spots for passengers.

Andrew says, “I’m not a culture vulture type of person, I appreciate art but don’t really know a whole lot about it. I am an Architect first, then a planner and a designer. It doesn’t matter what is my personal choice with respect to an art piece. The decision on the type of art pieces that go in a particular station is based on a well-established but lengthy process. But considering the artworks are permanent fixtures in the stations, which themselves can take up to 10 years to construct, the work that Andrew and his team puts into commissioning and curating the artworks is certainly worth it. The Art work is considered right from the station planning and conceptualization phase. I have a small team composed of knowledgeable people in the art field that come up with a list of artists based on certain principles that we follow at MTR. Among these principals, fore and foremost is the quality of the artist and the art piece. From there we prepare a shortlist that gives each one the chance to explain their ideas. Diversity in this process is important and the work is judged on quality irrespective of the artist’s age, nationality and even sexuality. Another important factor is how well does the art piece in the MTR imbibe the local culture. Local can be defined as a specificity of the hood or can also have a larger Hong Kong wide sense.’ These shortlisted artists are sent an invitation and given a small budget to prepare a maquette or a mock piece for us. Based on the final works received the final work is selected by the MTR’s Art Committee.”

“We also consistently look for opportunities for the community to take part in the creation of the artworks. From school groups to seniors, a wide spectrum of society has contributed to the creation of many of the artworks in the system.”

Andrew excitedly talks about the art piece “This is Wan Chai”, an installation that he commissioned recently for the Wan Chai station. “This art work is a collaboration between the Hong Kong Ballet with the Multimedia Artist Jevan Chowdhury.” Showing me the video of the production phase, he continues “The photographic installation captures ballet dancers frolicking through Wan Chai’s iconic streetscapes, bringing movement and vibrancy deep underground. It gives the platforms a personality that is unique to the Wan Chai district.” The artwork reimagines and reinvents the MTR station as a public space at the heart of the local community.

Starting the lunch with colour and continuing with art and community. I love the way this conversation ends.

On your next ride on the MTR, don’t hurry!! Take the time to notice the colour and appreciate the art pieces. They can be a great excuse to stop for a second, reflect and even escape to another world! Try it. For all you know, like me, you might just be wearing a big smile when you come back😊.

NOTE: LocalHood invites you to a guided tour of Art in MTR from Andrew mead, Head of Arch., MTR Corp. Ltd himself. Sat 20th Nov @ 10am. More info:


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