[Video Essay] Public city

Public City–MTR Passage


Intensive developments in Hong Kong are driven by the shortage of buildable land pressure and the ever-increasing population. The city development could be described and presented in a compact manner. The urban architecture needed to be linked and consolidated by mixed-use comprehensive public transportation in order to provide the daily life of citizens with high-efficiency mobility. Mass Transit Railway (MTR) is part of the system, which is positioned at the underground levels. Instead of an isolated building that simply transits people from the street to the underground for commuting or traveling purposes, the interior of the MTR passage is more like a city within a city due to its mega-structure and urban significance. The video essay will demonstrate what features in the MTR passage have constituted the ‘public’ characteristics of this place.

Video Link: https://youtu.be/ZfohHpCaUY4

Research and documentation :

Walking through the MTR passage is part of my daily routine, I take MTR to university almost every day, but I hardly ever closely observe the features inside. Therefore, I conceptualized my idea when walking in the MTR passage. Combining what I have seen in the stations and the research and literature about MTR that I read, I come up with the research question:  What makes the city/this place public? What characteristics will associate with ‘public?’ Is it just because it serves as a public commuting tool? I believe there are far more reasons laid behind.

The structure of the video content is inspired by the research Indoor ‘Public’ Space: A study of atria in mass transit railway (MTR) complexes of Hong Kong (Xue et al., 2017). It mentions the unique and distinct features of MTR and how we could perceive the MTR as an internalized ‘public’ space. The research signifies the megastructure design of the MTR passage, which consider as a ‘vertical densification miracle’ for transforming the limited resources into infinite possibilities. The consideration of public interest is the key mentioned in the research regarding the public characteristics of the MTR. By following this logic, I extend this concept further in my video by combining what I have learned from my urban planning course. The public and people-centric design also consider the inclusiveness of one city. Therefore, I add some shots of universal design in the MTR passage, which I found out during passing through the corridors. They are user-friendly, especially for the elderly, non-locals, or people with special needs.

The second part of the video demonstrates the commercialization in the MTR passage. To some extent, public areas must associate with the existence of the retail market, illustrating the phenomenon of gentrification of urban space in Hong Kong under the prevalence of consumerism and market economy (Atkinson and Bridge, 2005). There is no exception for the MTR passage. I utilized a contrast color in the video in order to highlight the commercial features in the passage, a fisheye lens to illustrate the ubiquitous advertisement, and close-up shots to focus on the shopping behaviors of people, demonstrating the interdependent relationship between the market and public areas.

As for the third part, I focus more on the critical role of people’s mobility in spatial practices (De Certeau, 1984). The social values invigorate the isolated buildings into an active urban public space. ‘Walking is no longer a discrete process, but an interactive cultural space.’ The relationship between people and space is highlighted when they are performing or observing (Zhang, 2009). Instead of using music, I adopt the original background noise, assisting in featuring the human interaction in the MTR passage. Last but not least, there are also different ‘boundaries’ in the MTR passage. Visible and unwritten boundaries describe how people behave and interact with space in this public social area (Boyer, 2000, cited in Zhao et al., 2014).


Producing a video is a brand-new experience for me. It is a constant learning process with the need to overcome different challenges. I watched many videos about shooting techniques and video editing and tried to utilize these new skills in video production. Moreover, I found out the central theme, and the conceptualization of the research question was the most challenging part, but the research process did give me a lot of new knowledge and ideas. As a student who also studies urban governance, the literature and observation of the sites help me to reflect more on how the people and the urban context shape the city and architecture. It seems like a field trip to me with close observation of what is so-call high-density transited-oriented development (TOD) mentioned in the case study of my geography course. 

Credits to:

Directed by Tan Xinyue

Acted by Kuang Yi



[1] Atkinson, R. and Bridge, G. (2005) Gentrification in a Global Context: The New Urban Colonialism. London and New York: Routledge.

[2] Boyer, C. (2000). Crossing cybercities: Boundary problems separating the regional space of the city form the matrix of cyberspace. In R. Simmonds & G. Hack (Eds.), Global city regions: Their emerging forms (pp. 214-228). London, UK: Spon Press.

[3] De Certeau, M. (1984). Walking in the City. In The Practice of Everyday Life (pp. 91-110), translated by Steven Randall. Berkeley: University of California Press.

[4] Xue, C. Q., Ma, L., & Hui, K. C. (2012). Indoor ‘public’ space: A study of atria in Mass Transit Railway (MTR) complexes of Hong Kong. URBAN DESIGN International, 17(2), 87–105. https://doi.org/10.1057/udi.2012.6

[5] Zhao, T. J., & Siu, K. W. M. (2014). The boundaries of public space: A case study of Hong Kong’s mass transit railway. International Journal of Design, 8(2), 43-60.

Tan Xinyue, 3035741433

3 thoughts on “[Video Essay] Public city

  1. Yi Kuang says:

    Really appreciate that you did a such informative video, documenting lots of details in the MTR passage. In particular, I like the part about inclusive design since the focus on the vulnerable group is easily neglected. In addition, your mentioned about all the passengers become performers is really interesting. You also show some interactions between people (like performers can be an audience as well). I think maybe it will be better if you elaborate and discuss more about this point. I really like your thoughtful work!

  2. Jun HoSeo  says:

    During busy times when commuting, we often take things for granted such as the MTR, and ignore the other details that are outside of us such as other passengers. I believe the video is a careful reminder for us to put more focus and be observant in our daily lives. It also brings interesting conversation of what if the space of MTR is private as opposed to the public, and how could the space change? a really interesting video that brings a fresh perspective and interpretation of MTR.

  3. Jen Lam says:

    You have discussed the publicness of the MTR passageways in multiple aspects. Perhaps it could be better organized in some ways, e.g. a specific research question or a narrative as you have lots of information. An MTR station has both public and private elements, how do you argue that it is highly public? These are questions you could ask to delve deeper into your topic.


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