The central square in Ukraine's capital city, Kiev, was renamed Independence Plaza in 1991 after protesters successfully forced Soviet leaders to step down from office through political demonstrations and hunger strikes. The square's proximity to political buildings and infrastructure increased exposure and influence of the action. In 2004 when presidential elections ended with accusations of electoral fraud, a movement formed in the square which caused the Supreme Court of Ukraine to issue an additional round of voting. The public's initial suspicions were accurate, and when it was time for the newly elected president to address his country, he returned to Independence Plaza. The symbolism is undeniable; the square is representative of the public and its ideals.
Ten years later, Ukraine is again fighting a government who does not accurately represent its people, and once more Independence Plaza is the physical and political center of civil unrest. There are specific attributes of the square that allow it to function both spatially and symbolically as part of the ideology of society. These attributes are tied directly to the event of public action through its increasing influence on society and its environment. Design will be used as an inclusive term for the intentional and thoughtful planning of this environment, (i.e. Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Urban Planning, etc.) The following begins to unpack the necessary characteristics for Design to become intrinsically intertwined with contemporary culture through the parsing of public action into stages, (cause, message, movement, ideology)
Equality is imperative in the structure of some societies and sought-after but seemingly unattainable in others. It removes the threats of having too little influence and of having a wealth of influence desired by others. The datum of society consists of individuals occupying a territory, bounded by the demarcation of land. A shared proximity also means that over time a society will share values, customs, and beliefs; all of which are passionately held close to one's own humanity and thus invaluable to the individual. This equality and proximity draws connections of like issues and encourages the formation of issue-driven groups, which is a starting point to catalyze a public into action when those beliefs are threatened. A cause is an idea based in a person's beliefs and values that has a specific goal associated with it, and thus results in action to obtain that goal. The operation of action spawns from an individual but quickly is shaped through event and environment.
Design can directly enhance the effectiveness of dispersal of a cause across society. Parameters of scale, shape, proximity, and proportion can functionally effect the ability of a public to form and congregate while also affecting mood and emotion, alleviating or creating tension, stimulating or stifling inspiration. The development of a space belonging strictly to a public should deliberately mirror the datum of equality and proximity of that public, that is, not only allowing functionally for the individuals to be equally present within the site but also creating a public area which is affixed to the infrastructure in a significant and symbolic way. That is, when space becomes bounded the formation of centers and axis become symbolic points and avenues that would otherwise not exist.
An opportunity to congregate and discuss individual values and ideas is a pivotal step in one's cause transforming into a growing message. This is the point where an individual's political value is greater than the percentage of one to the whole, not one vote but one voice. The ability to reach individuals and affect a public is far greater than the one vote that they possess. This establishes a leader or caretaker of the collective message. Ideally, there exists a political infrastructure that provides protection of the individuals who engage in a transferring of ideas and concerns, however there is not always a reassurance of safety associated with releasing a personal cause across a public forum. Just as a cause or idea can galvanized like-minded individuals, it will also create an opposition from those who do not share the message. In most cases, the stance becomes a dividing line between change and the status quo. The formation of groups based on core beliefs is not only encouraged but is vital to gain enough support to counteract the majority's lethargic and un-impassioned support of the status quo.
Traditionally, design has incorporated public spaces within communities that act functionally and symbolically as a platform to stand, a podium to speak, and a table to gather. Successful urban spaces are multi-functional and centralized with minimal required maintenance and up-keep for generally low-tech amenities. Higher costs associated with urban spaces usually lead to investors and agendas; personal, political, or otherwise. Spatial design belonging to the public must be politically neutral, void of bias and free of hierarchy.
There is no reason that design should not embrace current trends in media and technology to enhance the dissemination of the message and its own spatial affect. It has become easy to disperse a message to a vast majority from anywhere through social media and the internet, however the symbolic gathering of support within a physical space adds necessary power to the message. It is worthless to broadcast a message to millions if the message does not pass a responsibility to those who hear it and is unable to catalyze a public into action. Physical space and virtual media can both be utilized to make the message more potent to a more diverse audience.
The message is received by the public and begins to instill passion, to inspire, to spark a change from within. With the rapid formation of groups dedicated to taking social action and accomplishing goals based on the original cause, there exists a movement to accept a vast outpouring of support and momentum. The cause belongs to the public as it is turned over and refined. It is trimmed down to its core values, intensified in its message, and spread further throughout society. It no longer asks for support but cuts a line and forces a public to choose which side it falls.
The individuals start to self-identify as being a part of the movement and less as a part of society as a whole. The shared cause is a cohesive force and is aided by the act of naming the movement and/or developing a symbol for the cause. The tactics of the movement become more radical as individually they do not feel responsible for their actions. In most cases, a movement needs to force the hand of government through public demonstration and protest. The representatives in government are hesitant to change legislation that will in turn effect their position in society. The movement must overcome political self preservation through a public showing of support for the cause. This struggle turns the public from a datum of individuals occupying a territory into an active society participating in political change.
The architectural gesture can be a dramatic technique allowing design to absorb public symbolism. The simple form or shape, recognizable profile, or identifiable materiality of the design affects it's perception within society and allows it to obtain cultural significance. This can lead to a unique relationship between the project, a public, and its culture, representing both contemporary ideals as well as historical values for the lifespan of the design. Architectures role as an icon of the public remains a regional representation of identity which allows its perception to absorb the values and beliefs of a society. Just as the individuals begin to identify themselves with the movement, the elements of a design are no longer perceived individually, which makes the symbolic image of design more potent
The ultimate goal of any movement is to be recognized politically and bring change, however it does not necessarily need to bring about political legislation to successfully instill the cause with the cultural beliefs of a public. A cause that catalyzed a public into action remains with those who fought for it, forged through struggle and intense desire. In many cases, the affect of the movement to shift public sentiment is greater than the effect that legislation could have invoked. A process of shared participation in a movement galvanizes individuals into a society and shapes the ideology of a culture for years to come. In extreme instances where governments are overthrown or territories split, the perception of the movement relies drastically on whether it was successful or not. Since history is often written by the victors, there exists a thin line between a political uprising and an act of terrorism.
The potential exists for design to transcend building, surface, and enclosure and represent the ideology of a public. It can become as much a part of contemporary culture as the individuals through the lens with which it is perceived. Design can become a symbol, an icon, an attraction, and an economy to a public and act as an artifact of culture long after society has changed. For this reason, it should not be indifferent to site and proximity. Design should be integrated within its context in shape, form, and scale or deliberately opposed to it to achieve a desired affect or aesthetic. A unique aesthetic can draw a strong connection between the perception of the design and the perception of the local culture, thus allowing the design to act as an icon or image of regional ideology.
At its core, the unrest in Ukraine is a peaceful public movement demonstrating its desire for their country to sign a treaty with the European Union. The movement believes that aligning with the EU will benefit that majority of the country, while the president of Ukraine is favoring a small minority of upper class citizens by pulling out of negotiations. Citizens believe that they are not being adequately represented in government; this becomes a shared cause and begins to catalyze a public into action. The message relates the cause to an event giving the public an act to protest against; in this case, the President of Ukraine refusing the treaty. A movement takes place as protesters camp out at Independence Plaza as a way to spread their message and force the government to take notice. The plaza is the platform for which the protesters demonstrate. It is the opportunity to voice their message and to rally together. Independence Plaza is the location that society participates in government. It has developed a symbolism as belonging to the public and its ideals through past event and experience. It is an iconic site within Kiev that functionally allows for a public to take a stand. Along with characteristics of proportion, orientation, and proximity to local infrastructure and political centers; Independence Plaza embodies the potential affect of design on public action.
A. The role design plays in public action is inherently, and rightfully, neutral. Design with an agenda only limits the scope of the affected public. Manipulations of scale, proportion, and orientation can greatly affect the way a space is utilized by the public. Orientation of the space in regards to the local environment can form new axes and avenues that transverse the site, change traffic patterns, and develop points of tension. Adjustments to the scale of figural objects in relation to the space create both centers with which to gather and/or disruptions to circulation. Proportion and placement of objects can begin to enclose in order to reduce the speed of pedestrians or to constrict space which will increases movement.
B. A desire to take action is nothing without an opportunity to spread a message. The functionality of design provides this opportunity in an unbiased, highly effective way. The cause will fade without the capability to accommodate large groups and act as a public platform. The proximity to local infrastructures allows demonstration and protest to effect routine and create urgency. The accessibility of the space can aid in spreading awareness and gaining support. Centralized locations within the city can create enhanced media exposure. Specific adjacencies to political buildings can further force the government to reconsider public sentiment.
C. The responsibility of the designer is not to build a symbol of a cause or movement but to build a symbol of the public. This can be accomplished through the study of form, materiality, and gesture in order to create an image of the design that has an attachment to the public. Creating a distinct image allows a project to have a specificity of place where the city is identifiable within the design and vice versa. As an example, the form of Casa de Musica by OMA is weak in structure but loosely familiar to traditional shape in experiential perception. The uniqueness of profile creates a diagram, or image, representing the building and its cultural and artistic significance within the city. This along with its contextual awareness of folk art and culture creates an environment that society feels is a part of their public image.
D. Experiences create ephemeral affects that are felt and forgotten. Design can become symbolic of a culture and its public through the relationship of image and spatial affect. Symbolism is attached to design through personal experience and the affect of event. Affect does not exist without perception; thus the primary intent is to add functionality, to enhance personal experiences, and to develop an intentional and unique aesthetic. Developing perception can alter sensation and develop a lasting association between icon and event. Obtaining these characteristics allow design to absorb the ideology of the public and become a symbol of the culture of a society.
Transcending spatial affect and symbolizing culture can be accomplished on multiple scales and does not only occur in places of civil unrest. An urban space with these characteristics is Superkilen by BIG in Copenhagen. Working collaboratively with Topotek1 and Superflex, BIG creates an urban center representative of the diverse cultures present within the neighborhood through a collection of art, street furniture, and park amenities. The style of each feature belongs to a different aesthetic, both local and international, that is individually familiar and whose juxtaposition is stimulating. The desired affect is to create a multi-functional urban park that is a true sampling of expression and culture through the engagement of the public during the design process, literally assigning ownership of the space to the people.
"We proposed public participation as the driving force of the design leading towards the maximum freedom of expression. By transforming public procedure into proactive proposition we curated a park for the people by the people - peer to peer design - literally implemented." Bjarke Ingels, BIG.
Color and materiality are used in different ways in each of the three zones of the park. The southernmost zone, called the red square, utilizes color to codify program in swatches as a direct implementation of the diagram. The middle zone, the black square, features white lines flowing through the space that subtly avoid park follies. The high contrast pattern that is developed provides a easily recognizable aesthetic. The green space attaches to the black square and extends north through the city. It naturally has a greater range of texture and color due to the seasonal change in the foliage. All of these techniques create a unique perception and iconic image of the park as being of Copenhagen alone, as repeating the exercise in any other location would not look the same.
Superkilen possesses the attributes to become intrinsically part of culture and ideology. Through varying proportion, it is capable of accommodating multiple functions and events of various scales allowing the public to experience the environment through spatial affect. An intent to represent the diversity of local cultures has caused the location within Copenhagen to have a greater effect on the final design. Superkilen is further entrenched within contemporary ideology by its unique design and materiality, not only being distinct within its global context but also as specifically belonging to Copenhagen. It was designed with input from the public and features artwork, furniture, and foliage that represent the diverse culture, ensuring a sense of pride and feeling of ownership over the space by the neighborhood. Superkilen is designed to accept the ideals of society and become a symbol of a public in times of civic pride as well as civil unrest. It is not built to a specific cause or event but for a specific public. It is the strict and unrelenting specificity and iconic image that allows Superkilen to move past transient emotion to absorb ideology through experiential affect and cultural expression.
 Dougherty, Jill, and Ryan Chilcote. CNN, "Ukraine poll crisis deepens." Last modified November 23, 2004. Accessed March 6, 2014. http://www.cnn.com/2004/WORLD/europe/11/23/ukraine/.
BBC News, "Yushchenko takes reins in Ukraine." Last modified January 23, 2005. Accessed March 6, 2014. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4198957.stm.
 Morse, Felicity. The Independent, "Ukraine protests: what exactly is going on in Kiev?." Last modified January 24, 2014. Accessed March 2, 2014. HTTP://WWW.INDEPENDENT.CO.UK/NEWS/UKRAINE-PROTESTS-WHAT-EXACTLY-IS-GOING-ON-IN-KIEV-9083107.HTML.
 (See footnote 3)
 BIG, Bjarke Ingels Group, "Superkilen" slide #2, Accessed March 3, 2014. http://www.big.dk/#projects-suk
 DesignBoom, "Superkilen urban park by BIG architects, topotek1 superflex." Last modified October 22, 2012. Accessed March 6, 2014. http://www.designboom.com/architecture/superkilen-urban-park-by-big-architects-topotek1-superflex/.