Building up the layers of detail in CAD allows me to sculpt and tweak the base forms of the model or scene. I then flatten out and design the 2D nets of all the individual pieces. After this I cut out these nets (using a vinyl cutter, laser cutter or by hand – whatever is best) and then, by hand, I assemble all the individual forms like an intricate 3D puzzle. It sounds like a long process, and often it is, but it is also a satisfying chain of digital and physical model-making.
I mainly use pastel papers as I like the weight, colour range and the slight stipple to the surface. I also search for cards with unusual patterns and textures or experiment with different tools to texture the surface myself. The glue is an important factor as you don’t want an obvious seam of glue to ruin the ‘illusion’ that can be created by a model. I use a quick dry PVA, applying it with a glue syringe and using different types of tweezers and scalpels to manipulate the pieces into place.
Who do you make models for?
I make architectural models at Haworth Tompkins as well as working part time on my own commissions and personal projects. The models I build in practice are used to explain schemes to clients, the public or for the teams themselves to interact with the design and test everything from a surface’s texture, the play of light within a space or the proportions of a façade. I could either be building 1:5 mock-ups of a sculptural façade motif out of ply or massing options out of paper for a masterplan at 1:500.
With my personal projects, I am often commissioned by individuals or small companies to make paper models or scenes. During the first lockdown I started an ongoing project called ‘mailbox miniatures’. I am commissioned to make miniature models of key places in people’s lives, often their homes, but also their favourite film sets, the pub where they met their partner, their favourite buildings from a holiday or their dream home. I felt like I got a peek into these key elements of peoples lives by immortalising them in paper.
With commissions I play around and veer slightly away from realistic methods of representation. I enjoy manipulating the sense of scale - skewing elements of the scenery and creating a clearer divide between foreground and background within a composition, but I would like to push this further. I try and simplify the subject matter into a series of satisfying forms and then pick out the interesting and often relatable details I see. Whether it be the pattern of paving slabs in a cityscape or the inclusion of aerials, clothes lines or hanging baskets. I always aim to avoid stripping my models of the relatability of everyday elements.
Ellie Sampson is a model maker based in North London. She is a model maker and workshop manager at Haworth Tompkins. Sampson gives lectures and leads workshops about model making for schools and universities including; The Bartlett School of Architecture, The London School of Architecture, Oxford Brookes University, Manchester School of Architecture and Ravensbourne School of Architecture. www.elliesampson.co.uk
You can visit the Wish List City model in the Shaping Space - Architectural Models Revealed exhibition.