Finding one’s niche in the United Kingdom

A young woman from Stanwood, Lauren Ayers studied in the Hogwarts’ library.

Actually, the Bodleian Library, at Oxford University, which contains every book that’s ever been published in the United Kingdom.

The Bodleian Library is famous for hosting scenes in the first few Harry Potter movies, Ayers told the Stanwood Camano News by email recently.

“It’s serious motivation to go to the library when you can study in a 16th century reading room,” said the 2006 graduate of Stanwood High School.

Now, with a master’s degree in historic conservation in hand, Ayers has found her niche working with lime as a contracts manager at Between Time, LTD, in Hertfordshire, England.

The building conservation company has been around for nearly 30 years, she said.

Since January, she’s been plastering walls, estimating costs, sourcing materials, planning the sequence of work, helping manage craftsmen and liaising with clients and architects.

She works with an in-house team of plasterers, bricklayers, carpenters and decorators on a range of projects, from medieval churches to private homes, monuments to molehills.

“Literally, one of our projects involved an intervention to prevent animals from burrowing underneath the brick walls of an historic walled garden,” she said. “I’m incredibly lucky to learn from the company directors, who were at the forefront of the lime revival in the UK in the 1980s.”

Ayers has joined the Building Limes Forum, a group of lime users and enthusiasts who gather annually to discuss the latest developments in the use of lime in new and traditional buildings.

“We get to visit interesting places where lime was used in construction,” she said.

In September 2012, she finished her degree at Oxford Brookes University where she also studied architectural history at Oxford University.

“I got the best of both worlds,” said Ayers.

The joint “programme” at the polytechnic allowed her access to academic classes and the library.

After graduating from SHS, Ayers earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and marketing at University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

“Partway through the program, I questioned whether marketing was what I wanted to spend my life’s work doing,” Ayers said, “But I loved USC and the school has a strong business program so I stayed the course.”

For a minor, she took some photography classes and, while seeking new subjects for her lens, she discovered an interest in old buildings: the run-down theater district of 1920s and ‘30s, movie palaces on Broadway, the glossy skyscrapers of downtown LA, and the colossal classical revival church next door to her 1960s stucco and cement apartment block.

“This planted the seed for my passion for working with old buildings,” she said.

When Ayers struggled to find an entry-level job in marketing during the recession, her parents, Jay Ayers and Lynn Losleben, suggested she take a year off to travel. 

In the fall of 2010, she and her mother toured an old plantation, Middleton Place in South Carolina, and stayed in a hotel on the grounds.

“It was that day that my mother pointed out that I’d always been interested in old buildings,” Ayers said. “She suggested I consider a career working with historic properties.”

Ayers woke up at 3 a.m. in that hotel thinking, “I could really do this!” She knew then that she wanted to work in building preservation, but she didn’t know the term for the industry, let alone how to go about getting a job in the field.

After a bit of research, Ayers decided that getting a master’s degree in the subject would be the way to break into the industry.

A parallel dream for Ayers was to live in England. As a student at USC, she scored an internship in London.

“I fell in love with the city,” she said. “It made me feel like I’d found my place more than anywhere else I’d ever lived, and I thought that if I ever had the chance to go back, I would.”

Since England is a pioneer in conservation philosophy and practice, she decided it made sense to look at graduate school there. Another factor was that, in England, it takes just one year to finish a master’s degree, compared to two years in the U.S.

Ayers won a Hodgkinson Scholarship to pay tuition at Oxford Brookes University and in September 2011, she moved to Oxford.

“The Masters of Science in Historic Conservation was a joint programme,” she said, in her new English language, between the polytechnic and the university.

At Oxford Brookes she learned the technical issues of building materials, town planning and conservation economics and at the University of Oxford, she studied the history of architecture.

She did a number of projects: She surveyed, photographed and drew the details of a two-room Victorian lock-up used to detain the drunk and disorderly in St. Neots, Cambridgeshire. She articulated the historical development and character of a medieval market town, Wantage, in Oxfordshire, and she examined the economics behind turning a derelict church in Bristol into an arena for trapeze artists. Ayers also analyzed how Victorian social ideals were embodied in the plans of that era’s vast country houses and she researched terraced houses, called “row houses” in the states, built between 1880 and 1914 in southern England.

“I looked at whether they were important parts of England’s architectural heritage, and whether their character was being sustained or eroded by societal factors,” she said. “I examined case studies in Plymouth, Portsmouth and Oxford, finding pockets of terraced houses that exemplified the social, commercial and architectural history of the time period.”

Ayers discovered that private house construction burgeoned in England in the decades before World War I, as the middle classes grew and demanded suburban housing. The increase in mechanized production of architectural features such as stained glass windows and tile pathways meant that these houses had more decorative features than seen ever before in middle class houses.

“The detailing in speculative-housing has never been equaled since,” she said.

Since then, liberal development rights meant that few of the original row-houses have retained their external features.

“This makes it all the more important that those still intact be conserved in order to keep their character and history alive for future generations,” Ayers said.

While living in Oxford, Ayers enjoyed a vibrant city full of young people from around the world. She enjoyed exploring the city’s distinct “neighbourhoods.” Oxford’s architecture provided endless case studies on building conservation techniques and philosophies of repair, she said.

“Even nights out in the pub were related to our studies as we were in medieval timber-framed establishments,” Ayers said.

For her coursework and dissertation research, Ayers won Oxford Brooks University’s Symm Annual Prize for outstanding achievement in the historic conservation program.

It undoubtedly helped her snag a position with Between Time Ltd.