Xia Lu Obituary | Architecture


My friend Xia Lu, who died of cancer at 61, was an architect living in Liverpool since 1990. Earlier in her career, she was responsible for the design of a KFC facing Tiananmen Square in Beijing. It was the first Western-style fast food restaurant in China, and its opening in 1987 generated worldwide publicity. Xia Lu also designed other important buildings, including a Beijing street market mall and a theater.

In Liverpool, Xia Lu became an accomplished teacher of the Chinese art of Qigong, a system of movement and posture she had learned in Beijing to help her cope with a severe form of epilepsy. Doctors warned the illness could prove fatal, but she refused to accept what they told her.

She was born in Lanzhou, the capital of the northwestern province of Gansu, one of the three children of Xia, a professor at Lanzhou University of Finance and Economics, and Hua Mei-Yun, officer of public services. Xia Lu studied architecture at Tsinghua University in Beijing, graduated in 1984 and joined a Beijing law firm. She also studied the life and work of one of China’s most famous architects, Liang Sicheng, co-authoring books in Chinese and English, including Master of a Generation (2006), with Guo Daiheng.

At the age of 25, Xia Lu had epilepsy. Brain scans showed a series of cavernomas, which she described as pebbles deep inside her brain. Determined to live a full and active life, despite life-threatening tonic-clonic seizures, she practiced Qigong to help control them.

Xia Lu’s watercolor of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral

I met Xia Lu and her husband Qi Ning, an engineer whom she met at university and whom she married in 1986, in Liverpool. Xia Lu studied for a master’s degree at the University of Liverpool School of Architecture, earning a living teaching Qigong at the Black-E Community Art Center and the Chinese Pagoda in Liverpool. Her association with Black-E continued and she became a director.

Defying medical advice, Xia Lu got pregnant. In 1993, as her twins, Robert and William (their names chosen shortly after a tour of Scotland), arrived, loud firecrackers were heard across Liverpool to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Their parents joked that the loud celebrations marked the birth of the twins.

In 2006, Xia Lu organized a major art exhibition, the first of its kind, at the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool, persuading some of Beijing’s most distinguished artists to make their contribution. She painted watercolors of landmarks in Liverpool, such as the city’s two cathedrals. The images reflected his training, combining the precision of an architectural eye with flowing brushstrokes, reflecting the focus and expression of Qigong.

She is survived by Qi Ning, Robert and William, and her siblings, Leng, Lei and Ting.

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