Historic traces – Xixiang Qilou (骑楼)

Buildings connected with archways, qilou (骑楼) are architectural symbols of Cantonese urban modernity. They first appeared in the early 20th century, when Guangzhou razed its city wall in order to expand streets for commerce and modern forms of transportation, but the style quickly spread throughout the Pearl River Delta. Some say that qilou were a continuation of an indigenous Cantonese architecture style, protecting pedestrians from both the sun and the rain. Others claim that qilou were a Cantonese adaptation of western architectural forms. Nevertheless, what remains clear is that like the Paris arcades or Venetian sotto portico, qilou enabled shopkeepers to display their wares and pedestrians to stroll by and window shop, creating the vibrant street cultures that we associate with these cities.

The former county seat of New Baoan County, Xixiang was one of the first areas outside the Shenzhen second line to urbanize. However, unlike guannei, where urban educated architects and planners designed with an eye to contemporary western forms, Shenzhen villagers designed with an eye to Guangzhou and Hong Kong indigenous urban forms. Consequently, on some of the streets in Xixang it is still possible to stumble upon contemporary adaptations of the qilou. Although, like Guangzhou’s early 20th century qilou, Xixiang’s 1980s qilou will most likely be razed to build air conditioned malls, further privatizing street culture. Nevertheless, glimpses of a few corners from Xixiang street life suggest the variety of possible urban forms.

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Just FYI, in Dongmen, some qilou have been preserved during the construction of the Dongmen pedestrian commercial area. Also, there are some qilou along the older sections of Nanxin Road, just beyond Nantou, the county seat of Baoan during the Ming, Qing, and Republican eras.

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