Today I am thinking about maintenance. It’s on my to do list in the form of myriad home and garden tasks. It’s in my inbox as a reminder to complete my continuing education courses. More critically, it’s on my brain as I empathize with all those affected by the current boil alert and appreciate the water quality monitoring (another form of maintenance) that identified the contamination issue so that it can be addressed.
There’s an old Freaknomics podcast episode entitled “In Praise of Maintenance” that talks about the relationship and the tension between innovation and maintenance. Innovation is exciting, new, appealing. Maintenance can feel boring and repetitive, but it is important both in its own right and as the foundation on which innovation can occur. As architects, our practice exists in this tension between innovation and maintenance. We create new spaces, but we navigate infrastructure and other existing conditions in order to do so. We imagine new ways of building, but we consider the whole life cycle of our structures. A life cycle that includes maintenance and includes divestment.
A college professor once described an architect’s goal as avoiding the “airplane glare.” You sit down in an airplane seat one day, and in the course of friendly conversation with the stranger next to you reveal that you’re an architect and mention some buildings you’ve designed. The stranger, upon hearing one of those building names, immediately gives you a horrible glare as they work/live/learn in that building and something about it that YOU designed makes their life more difficult. The key to avoiding the glare isn’t to never talk with your fellow passengers, but to have considered all the aspects of each space you design. Does it improve quality of life for every user? Where might it not?
We understand the importance of maintenance. Our creations don’t survive without it. We consider and respect it even as we strive to innovate. Today, please take an extra moment to appreciate maintenance in your life, whether it’s in your office, your project, or your home.
Laura Wheaton, AIA, LEED AP bd+c
2022 AIA Baltimore President