By Mika Savela.

The phrase “Hong Kong is very colorful” can mean that there are a lot of things going on visually. However, there is also another layer of “color” in Hong Kong you can often see used in surprising ways: paint.

Perhaps it has something to do with the fast cycle of tropical wear-down of buildings and infrastructure, but painting facades, railings, pipelines, plumbing, hydrants and manhole covers with bright colors seems elemental to Hong Kong. Rather than trying to blend the necessary utilities into the whole, this systemic coloring is designed to make them stand out.

Somehow, the use colors feels more uninhibited than what we are often used to in cities where a harmonious cityscape is being carefully monitored, and where delicate muted tones are used to mask infrastructure in relation to historical buildings. The effect is exhilarating. Seeing a freshly-painted yellow fire hydrant on the street or a building along with all its pipes and installations painted pink has a kind of humorous note.

It’s obvious that sometimes paint serves only as a cheap cover-up. Nevertheless, the chance of using many color schemes common in Hong Kong would be very slim in some other cities. It’s hard to say where this willingness to use bold happy colors (and to see color in the environment) comes from.

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Is it simply natural for Hong Kongers, given the many colorful traditions, such as dragon boats, festival outfits, flags and ornaments? Is it to save money from excessive renovations? Is it because yellow paint is sometimes cheaper than white paint? Is it because of fun?

Or is it because, ultimately, that it is only a layer of paint, in a city that keeps changing anyway?