How I Work: Model Maker Ellie Sampson

Papercut artist and model maker Ellie Sampson explains the challenges of making mini buildings and why her tiny take on architecture offers a kind of escapism that the real world doesn’t

As a full-time model maker at Haworth Tompkins, Ellie Sampson spends her days using casting, 3D-printing, and paper-cutting to turn architectural designs into reality – albeit at a somewhat reduced scale. But even after the work day’s over, she’s still busy with scalpel and glue, creating imaginary Palm Springs homes, dreaming up Art Deco apartment blocks or working on commissions for people who want miniature versions of their own real-life homes.

Sampson has been making paper models for almost as long as she can remember, so it’s no surprise that her original plan of becoming an architect – which included completing her Part I and II at The Bartlett School of Architecture – ended up being converted into a career as a model maker. She describes it as a way to connect with the history of architecture, but also explore people’s often very personal relationship with spaces and buildings. CR caught up with her to uncover exactly how she builds these tiny worlds, and why making miniature buildings is, for her, a kind of “mindless mindfulness”.

Satisfying an urge for escapism I took the long way round when it came to model making. I studied architecture, and did my Part I and II at the Bartlett School of Architecture. For anyone outside of the architecture and design world, when they see the Bartlett’s work they’re shocked it’s architecture. There’s a really broad speciality – you’re free to do anything really and get away with it. I got really into model making there, and always made them to make sense of the design I did. I loved architecture, loved studying the built environment, but I needed to continue to find that escapism with my designs, and with little scenes and things I’d made up. The beauty of doing these models means I can draw from anything. I can draw from books, or films, or comics. And that’s why I carried on doing models as private commissions or gifts.

Top image: Detail from Rona Road; Above: Miami beachfront apartment block