Urban Influence of Immigration


Logan Carroll and Richard Sa

The architecture of many places around the world has been extremely influenced by groups who are not native to the area. When ethnic groups move into a new place, they reshape public space and urban life. Beginning in the late 17th century, Spain began establishing missions in New Spain in an attempt to compete with European settlements in the Americas. The missions trained the indigenous people, not only in matters of faith, but also in new building methods. Later, during the Gold Rush of the mid-18th century, Chinese immigrants flocked to the West Coast of the United States. With an abundance of Chinese immigrants, they were hired to construct the railroad systems that expanded the across the country and led to the development of major cities. In recent years, Hong Kong has seen a large number of Filipino immigrants, who get jobs as domestic workers. On their days off, these immigrants gather in the public spaces of Hong Kong to celebrate their culture.

HSBC Building, Hong Kong, 2011, Norman Foster

Filipino domestic workers on the ground floor of the HSBC headquarters. (WSJ / Lam Thuy)
Filipino domestic workers on the ground floor of the HSBC headquarters. (WSJ / Lam Thuy)

A large migration from the Philippines to Hong Kong began in the 1980s due to a booming economy in Hong Kong as well as a failing economy in the Philippines. Due to the economic situations, maids in Hong Kong made more money than college graduates in the Philippines, so most of the domestic workers in Hong Kong have college degrees and know English helping the maids and employers. It is also estimated that, on average, each Filipino maid in Hong Kong supports five people in the Philippines, and that maids in Hong Kong account for about five percent of the Filipino gross domestic product.

Spacial influence of Filipino domestic workers in the lobby of the HSBC building.
Spacial influence of Filipino domestic workers in the lobby of the HSBC building.

Due to the fact that the Filipinos are now living in Hong Kong away from their families, many of the immigrant workers gather with other immigrant workers on Sundays, their only day off, in the public spaces of Hong Kong in order to continue interacting with people who enjoy similar lifestyles. The most notable gathering takes place in the sheltered, public plaza underneath the HSBC Building, designed by Sir Norman Foster and completed in 1985. The workers gather to celebrate their culture, and enjoy the company of other Filipinos. A market has been set up where they display crafts and Filipino food, and the workers have established many different groups with weekly meetings to discuss things from new crafts to political issues. They also meet in smaller groups in almost every public space, even on steps leading into buildings. These gatherings have affected the public life in Hong Kong, as many of the public spaces are being focused on Filipino culture. At the HSBC Building, the lobby of a corporate building is transformed from a usually mundane lobby for an office building into a space that is filled with people creating a festive gathering place by celebrating one unifying culture. This occupation changes the character of the open plaza space entirely as well as exposing the citizens of Hong Kong to Filipino culture on a regular basis.

These gatherings do not only occur beneath the HSBC Building, as there are smaller
gatherings all over the city, in parks, on sidewalks, on the stairs of entrances to public buildings, and some consisting of only two women meeting to catch up on each other’s lives. Everywhere that a gathering does take place the character of that area is changed.


New Spain, Late 17th Century

The Spanish first came to the New World in the early 1500s when Hernan Cortes invaded the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan. Once the Spanish began to establish a presence in this new land, they decided to begin competing with French and British settlements in the Americas. To do this, the Spanish would establish missions in an attempt to convert to indigenous people to Catholicism, and also as a more organized form of governing the natives. Previous attempts of governing the native people had led to enslavement and abuse of the Indian populations. Initially after the missions were created, they would have control of almost everything around that area in order to create Christian-based towns. The missions would control the social, political and religious areas of life. They also strived to keep away Spaniards who had already settled in New Spain, as they were seen as negative influences. A strict daily schedule was implemented consisting of prayer, work, training and worship. Once the Indians were able to run the communities in a sufficiently Christian manner, they left the control of the missions and became part of Spanish society, in a process called secularization.

The Spanish missions had a great influence on the development of San Antonio both  culturally and urbanistically.
The Spanish missions had a great influence on the development of San Antonio both culturally and urbanistically.

As part of the conversion of indigenous people into Spanish society, the missions would teach them various areas of life. They instructed them in new methods of agriculture, different crafts, and new building methods. For certain Indian tribes in Northern Mexico and Texas, the new processes of building that they were learning was entirely new to them. Tribes that originated in the plains region of Texas especially encountered the greatest change in architecture. These tribes had nomadic lifestyles and cultures based on buffalo hunting. They had to be able to quickly dismantle and reassemble their shelters, so these tribes had utilized tepees covered with animal hides. The building techniques taught to these formerly nomadic Indians included stone masonry and adobe construction. With initial construction done by the missionaries, the construction completed around the missions as it grew was usually completed by the newly sedentary Indian population. The new methods of construction completely changed the ways of life for certain tribes and altered the architectural style of the entire region. The missions also led to permanent cities growing around the missions, such as San Antonio, Texas. With more permanent construction methods used, the buildings were meant to last. Five missions were initially established along the San Antonio River. These missions, Espada, Concepcion, San Juan, San Jose and the Alamo, eventually had towns built around them. The towns grew in size and merged to create the city of San Antonio. The city grew around the missions and they are currently the center of the city geographically, as well as economically as they have become major tourist attractions.



Western United States, 1863-1869

The influx of Chinese immigrants began to change the streetscape of SanFrancisco. (Photograph by Arnold Genthe)
The influx of Chinese immigrants began to change the streetscape of SanFrancisco. (Photograph by Arnold Genthe)

Chinese emigrants had been creating a fairly steady stream of people into the west coast of the United States, but immigration really began to pick up in 1858 with the discovery of gold in the California mountains. Driven out of China by a poor economy and an oppressive government, and lured by the idea of finding gold, Chinese, almost exclusively men, began pouring into California. After working in gold mines for a few years after arriving in America, the immigrants would look for other jobs in the labor force, as fishermen, or as domestic workers. With an increasing number of immigrants, restrictions on opportunity were put in place in order to give more jobs to whites.
When the Transcontinental Railroad began being constructed by the Central Pacific Railroad in Sacramento, California and by the Union Pacific Railroad in Omaha, Nebraska, most of the laborers were Irish immigrants. However, the foremen and owners encountered problems with the Irish workers, including drunkenness and attempts by the workers to get better wages. While the Irish were disputing their wages, the Central Pacific management hired Chinese laborers to replace the Irish laborers. This caused the Irish to return to work, and after seeing their work ethic, management decided to keep the Chinese immigrants and actively look to recruit Chinese immigrants as laborers. By the time the railroad was completed, eighty percent of those building the railroad were Chinese immigrants.

Cities along the transcontinental railroad developed as they became major economic hubs.
Cities along the transcontinental railroad developed as they became major economic hubs.

Without the influx of Chinese immigrants to California during the Gold Rush, it is very likely that the Transcontinental Railroad would not have been completed. But with the completion of the project came a huge amount of migration from east to west. It led to more branches of the railroad spreading throughout the western part of the country, creating cities that grew around the railroad. While the railroad was being built, workers would establish tent cities near the building site. Most of these cities, which included amenities like restaurants and saloon, would move with the workers. Others would remain and become established cities, like Laramie, Wyoming and the capitol of Wyoming, Cheyenne. The cities on either end of the railroad, Sacramento and Omaha would also grow. The railroad would later be extended to reach the Pacific coast at San Francisco.It also allowed the west to be a large supplier of food for the eastern cities of the United States. Farmers in the west could send their products to the east before it spoiled. The railroad shortened the travel time from New York City to San Francisco from three months to eight days, shrinking the country.

Whether by peaceful public gatherings, or through teaching native people new skills, ethnic groups have been changing the public space and urban life of places to which they migrate and settle. The Chinese immigrants of the mid-18th century created the infrastructure that allowed America to spread across the continent, while Spanish missions allowed for the permanent settlement of towns in New Spain, which eventually became large cities by teaching the indigenous people new building techniques. The Filipino immigrants have created a much less permanent change in Hong Kong, but it is still a significant change in how the spaces are experienced while the immigrants occupy them. These events signify the ways that ethic groups settling in new areas have been transforming the public space of their new homes for centuries.



Hou, Jeffrey. “Beyond Zuccotti Park: Making the Public.” The Design Observer Group. http://places.designobserver.com/feature/beyond-zuccotti-park-making- the-public/35658/ (accessed October 5, 2013).

Kim, Joohee. “Hong Kong Creates Opportunity for Filipino Migrant Workers”. Berkley Center. (http://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/letters/hong-kong-creates-opportunity-for-filipino-migrant-workers) October 20, 2013.

“SanFrancisco’s Chinatown Architectural Space.” http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/award99/cubhtml/theme3.html (accessed October 13, 2013).

Encyclopedia Entries
“Franciscan Missionaries in Texas before 1690” Texas Almanac. (http://www.texasalmanac.com/topics/history/franciscan-missionaries-texas-1690-0) October 16, 2013.

“Immigration, Railroads, and the West”. Harvard University Library Open Collections Program. (http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/immigration/railroads.html). October 20, 2013.

Robert E. Wright, O.M.I., “SPANISH MISSIONS,” Handbook of Texas Online(http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/its02), accessed October 21, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Willard B. Robinson, “ARCHITECTURE,” Handbook of Texas Online(http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/cmask), accessed October 20, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

“Workers of the Central Pacific Railroad” PBS. (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/tcrr-cprr/). October 20. 2013.

Scholarly Articles
Tillu, Jasmine Susanna. “Spatial Empowerment: The Appropriation of Public Spaces by Filipina Domestic Workers in Hong Kong.” Massachussetts Institute of Technology. (June 2011)

Video and Audio

Gonzalas, Marisa. “Female Open Space Invaders.” Direected by Marisa Gonzalas. Video. 2012.

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