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Old Qilou Buildings: Historical Architecture in Guangzhou (Part 1)

Updated Beijing Time

 
Age-old Qilou building on Guangzhou's Renmin Zhong Road (Guangzhou Daily)

 

 
Qilou building with carving in ceiling (Guangzhou Daily)

 

 
Guangzhou's Taiping Nan Road lined with Qilou buildings during the 1920s and 1930s (file photo)

Beijing has traditional Chinese courtyards and Shanghai boasts elegant Western-style villas but, here in Guangzhou, one can still walk amongst historic Qilou buildings, which are unique to the southern part of China.

It has been nearly a hundred years since the construction of the first Qilou buildings, and they have remained popular over the many decades. Nowadays, Qilou buildings have become features in older parts of Guangzhou, and symbolize the city's unique architectural history.

Throughout Guangzhou's development during the last century, the Qilou building has always been closely connected with the city's booming business economy, generally emblazoned with countless traditional brand names along shopping streets on either side of the Pearl River, including Beijing and Shangxiajiu roads. Walking through the small alleys amidst these historic Qilou buildings, one can get a glimpse of the old Guangzhou.

 

 
Qilou building on Renmin Zhong Road with wooden ceiling (Guangzhou Daily)

 

 
Qilou buildings on Guangzhou's Shangxiajiu pedestrian street, which has become one of the most popular commercial streets in the city (Guangzhou Daily)


Origins: a blend of culture from the East and the West

In an ever-modernizing metropolis ruled by concrete and steel, the Qilou is a sign of traditional culture. Guangzhou is the cradle of the Qilou, a building that features southern Chinese characteristics while also displaying an architectural blend of East and West.

Guangzhou's Thirteen Guild Hall

Dr. Yang Honglie from the Architecture and City Planning College of Guangzhou University has done extensive research on the Qilou. He says "business" was the foundation of the Qilou design concept, and we can find examples of ancient buildings with similar design elements as far back as China's Song Dynasty (420-479).

Since the Qing Dynasty (1616—1911), the popularity of Western things has continued to grow in China. At that time, antique Greek architecture with outdoor corridors had just been introduced to Guangzhou, which eventually became the rudiment of the Qilou building style.

Guangzhou's famous Thirteen Guild Hall provided both residential and business space for expats during that time. Most of the guild halls in the early 19th century were two-story buildings with a marked western style.

Historic Buildings Combine Residences with Businesses

During the late 19th century and early 20th century, many Cantonese merchants returned to their hometowns from other Southeast Asian countries to build their own businesses. They brought with them some exotic styles of architecture, and soon the Qilou building emerged.

The Qilou style first appeared on Yide road and area around the Sacred Heart Stone House Cathedral. These special wind- and rain-proof buildings looked inviting and customer-friendly, and soon spread throughout the city.

(by Carrot Chan, Stephen Roach)

Source: Lifeofguangzhou.com

Editor: Chen Minjie

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