[kuh n-ven-shuh n] n.: a rule, method, or practice established by usage; custom.
Oftentimes, our society has lived through convention, tradition - methodical recreations of the past days, weeks and years. The norm has dictated that man, whether through daily activity or lifelong expectations, do things in a certain way. While each man may live along slightly different paths, the reality is that they all experience the same exact thing. What really changes between the traditional American family besides social class, race/ethnicity, and the overall makeup of their household? Not much, convention has taught man and woman to marry, buy a home and procreate only to teach the next generation that is the way of the road. There isn't an alternate route, rather you want to be scrutinized for your variation of the norm.
Artistic expression and design have customarily been vastly different in their approach to conventions. Stepping outside of the box is what has provided a variety of different styles, epochs, and methodologies; it has kept the creative world (mostly) on its toes. Where this expressionistic attitude and apt for the vastly creative spirit is often crushed, however, is through the world of architecture. The most visceral of the arts, it also provides the most structured approach to 'art', as well. Codes and regulations, clients who are singly aware of their bottom line, and a large assortment of other restrictive measures keep the practice of expressive and audacious architecture to a minimum. There isn't enough of a margin to define the zeitgeist let alone break out of the proverbial (and literal) box.
Architecture is loaded with conventions. Typical door heights, stair rise and runs, traditional means and methods of constructing (thus designing), and quite possibly the most banal reality of the profession; what a building actually is. What is a building? Scratch that, refraining from reaching for the latest Merriam-Webster, what really is a building? Ask most people - designers and laymen alike - what a building is and to illustrate the essence of one, more than likely you will get the same response from 75% of those individuals. A building has become so prosaic in itself, only very few people on this planet dare to venture outside of the bounds of what has been laid before us thousands of years ago. A building is the same thing it always has been because we've grown comfortable in our assumptions that the norm is permanent.
Some of the more progressive architects of today have been noted for altering and skewing the perception of what people classify as a building. Frank Gehry's approach is one that looks at an edifice as an object. The space which materializes from said object becomes the building. (For the client's sake, his projects are still referred to as buildings only to give them justification for the millions they are spending on the design alone). Zaha Hadid has removed many traditional conventions of architecture, possibly one of the largest being the right angle. Challenging the interior and exterior of a building, Zaha's curvature is a playful mix between object, animal, and amorphous blobs (pretty ones, at that). While these are only two architects of the hundreds of thousands worldwide, there aren't many others doing what those whom call themselves 'starchitects' are trying to convey as the predilection of today. For the sake of creating the same trite spaces as yesterday, most architects (led on a very, very short leash by their rapacious clients) are perfectly fine never allowing their crafts to reach for their full potential. What's even more upsetting is in contemporary times, the rapid growth of technologies and materials allows for less inhibitions. Our society has presented itself as able to carry the brunt of change without the desire to do so.
Challenging conventions is the only way progression can be measured and achieved. As a whole, society must seek to break out of the restraints of the past and move past a comfort zone that has far exceeded its stay. There is a point when over-analysis becomes futile, however when the current situation has exhausted all potential for progression, when will change finally be accepted? Architects must continue to strive forward to seek out a better way to identify how to alter the public's view of change and break them from their comfort zones.
Architecture is the only art that you can't help but feel.
It's around the public everyday, there's no refuting its existence nor its profound effect. If only it could live up to its full potential today, the inspiring upward stares would grow to even the most culturally-defunct individual. Architecture is visceral and beautiful - whether it be a conventional building or not - but when the norm is challenged and barriers are broken, true progression toward a change and an identity that better suits 21st century man can be accomplished. What is it that we want future generations to be aware of when they think of our time on this earth? The best way to leave a lasting impact for generations to come is to manifest our zeitgeist into a built entity(ies) representing our aspirations and beliefs. Do we want to leave suburban strip malls and office parks as an ode to our existence for future generations to remember us?