18 Apr Alex Towle MSc Conservation – Q&A
How would you describe your role at PAYE?
I began working at PAYE in 2011 after completing a BSc in Construction Management at Leeds Metropolitan University and have since gradually progressed through the business into the role that I fulfil today. During my employment, I have been lucky enough to be involved in some fantastic projects, which have included working the Palace of Westminster, several phases of work for the Royal Household at Windsor Castle and many interesting conservation projects at Eton College. The Temple of Mithras has most recently been somewhat ‘stand-alone’ in its rather unique requirement, but experiences gained whilst working on this and more traditional projects have together seen an opportunity for me to develop my approach to works in conservation as a whole. In support of these projects, I graduated from Kingston University this year with an Upper Second-class Master’s degree in Historic Buildings Conservation.
What brought you to a role in Building Conservation?
We are extremely lucky to live in a country with an extensive and diverse historic built environment and working at PAYE we have the chance to interact with these buildings daily. Being given the opportunity to be involved in maintaining and repairing these properties, makes me feel like I am contributing towards the development of our country’s heritage, and this is something that I feel a real sense of privilege in. Furthermore, the diverse nature of our profile of work is something that attracted me to the role and has been pivotal in allowing me to hone my knowledge in the areas of conservation that I am most interested in.
That being said then, which area of our works do you most enjoy?
I grew up in a small town in the North East of Lincolnshire, where industry has been an important part of the social and economic environment for many years. As with many towns and cities within the UK, the area has felt the effects of post-industrial decline and many of the more traditional industries have slowly faded out of existence. The legacy of these industries is a highly defective and degrading historic industrial building stock which is now being used as a mechanism for regeneration. I have a great interest in this area of conservation and it is something that I have written about in depth during my studies.
What do you understand to be the difference between conservation & restoration?
There is often a very fine line between the clean definition between a conservation and restoration project, and this can become a somewhat contentious topic. I would say that conservation is often perceived to be a more sympathetic approach to repair, where emphasis is placed on the retention of original building components. Restoration is deemed more to be a mechanism for renewal, where perhaps aesthetics is a driving force, and in many cases, can present a very different aesthetic finish.
Which project have you found to be the most challenging and why?
The nature of the projects we are involved in delivering at PAYE have reoccurring challenges associated with them. There are many cases where we are asked to undertake conservation works to buildings that will remain occupied during works. To control the risks associated with doing this, we may need to focus on one particular element of health and safety, or we hone the programme to maintain usability for the client. Examples of such projects are the repairs to the School Yard at Eton College, the repaving works at Westminster School and the conservation works to the vaulted ceilings at St Georges Cathedral.
What do you see as PAYE’s advantages as a contractor?
As a company we have employees who hold a broad range of skill sets and as a result, we have the ability to deliver projects of extensive scope, both large and small. We place a high level of emphasis on quality and will always try our very best to work with clients to minimise any disruption which inadvertently impacts use of the building during our occupation. I feel it is these principles, amongst others, which have contributed towards the repeat business that we have enjoyed from a range of clients over the years.
Where do see the development of building conservation as an industry going?
To draw on a point I mentioned earlier, I feel that the conservation of industrial heritage is a sector of the industry that will become more prominent in the near future, as would seem to be the case year on year. As a business we have seen an increase in these types of projects, with the BBC Television Centre, Smithfield Market and Battersea Power Station being just three prime examples. We have also found a rise in the request for the implementation of ‘new’ techniques (including the use of modern consolidants and the use of hot limes) and this is something which we are keen to understand greater and embrace as a business.