Do Architects Consider Maintenance?
Updated: May 25, 2019
Years of managing large estates has provided insight into Principal Blair Pettigrew's design ethos.
How Estate Management informs Architectural Design
Years ago, when I was provided a fortuitous opportunity to design and manage properties for a heavy weight Hollywood couple I couldn't be more excited, but at the time I had no idea how it would affect my design process later.
I had been hired to wear a number of hats: provide architectural work, project manage construction, and then manage the properties after they had been built or renovated, meaning I was to keep them maintained in top notch working order and looking like they had been built yesterday. The idea of "maintenance" seemed easy enough; just make schedules and make sure vendors arrive, have fair prices, and do quality work. While this was partly true, as the buildings moved into years of aging certain design decisions and construction choices surfaced that made maintenance unnecessarily challenging.
First of all, it must be said that architectural design is filled with a multitude of choices and an architect along with the client must make a hierarchy for decision making. No matter what size the project and whatever the budget, there are pros and cons to every decision that must be weighed. The factors at play are typically numerous. Practical space planning, ergonomic usage, engineering aspects, and aesthetic visual/spatial design are but a few. Architects are good when they consider all aspects, but they are considered exceptional when the visual and spatial aesthetics of their work is exceptional. Hence aesthetics is typically the primary focus and at the top of the hierarchy totem pole. The aspect of maintenance is low on the totem pole or rarely even considered...my guess is because most architects haven't had to maintain a completed project and therefore the concept isn't tangible to them.
One example of this lack of consideration is architects rarely design a location for AV, IT, and security equipment, particularly if the vendor is not part of the team during the design process. Often cabinetry and closets that the owner had assumed would use for personal items end up having to house electronics then accommodations for venting made after the fact. Or the equipment gets pushed into crannies under staircases or in attic spaces, where access is difficult which interferes with necessary upgrades, repairs, and general usage.
And even with the growing understanding of the importance of clean air in the home, access to HVAC equipment for filter change out is rarely an easy task. Access panels to attic space where equipment is housed is typically an afterthought. Whereas drop down ladders, if carefully considered, can be out of view and make life for the occupant so much easier in the future.
Corrosion resistant materials for the exterior are critical for a home to remain durable and attractive for years to come. I can't say how many times I've run across non-corrosion resistant screeds in the stucco that start to show rust, after which painters try to get in with Rustoleum, but never are able to quell the ugly aged look. It is such a simple thing to do correctly, but if overlooked creates on going headaches in the future.
Another clear example of "not my problem" attitude in one home that I encountered involved a very large pool commercial grade pool heater installed in the basement. While it did have a long lifespan of 15 years, those years ran out. When it came time to replace, it became evident that had been installed with a crane while the house was being built, before the 3 stories above were in place. Removal required it to be broken into small parts, but the worse part was that it could only be replaced with a smaller residential heater that wasn't adequate for the pool, and would have to be replaced regularly. I don't know the consideration was at play when this decision to put the pool equipment in the basement, but it created a problem for the future.
The examples go on and on. I believe there should be a brief course on the usage of buildings in architectural curriculum at universities to minimally plant the seed in student's minds that the life of buildings life long after construction ceases and the photographs are taken.
- Blair Pettigrew, Principal