An Artist’s Mesmerizing Miniatures of Tokyo Buildings

Christopher Robin Nordström’s miniatures of buildings in Tokyo (all images courtesy Christopher Robin Nordström)

Artist Christopher Robin Nordström thought he had abandoned his enthusiasm for miniatures in his teenage years, but 20 years later, he returned with a more mature focus to his childhood passion. Since 2018, the native of Södermalm, the southern island in Stockholm, Sweden, has been fastidiously recreating buildings from Tokyo, Japan, as part of an ongoing series he calls TokyoBuild.

“It’s about the architecture, which if you are from Scandinavia, as I am, is very intriguing,” Nordström told Hyperallergic. “The commonplace, almost forgotten architecture, I think is especially interesting.”

Rather than the polished, perfected, and often fantastical elements that miniature-making often facilitates, Nordström’s works demonstrate a different kind of virtuosity: an eye for replicating the natural entropy of built environments at a micro-scale. One might argue that the beauty of miniatures is that they can represent architectural ideals rather than accommodate tedious elements like heating vents and working plumbing, but Nordström creates compelling tableaux — or “portraits,” as he calls them — by including the real stuff of life, like electric boxes, water damage, and rusting metalwork.

“I like houses that have been mended, expanded, et cetera,” said Nordström. “That is what I want to highlight with my portraits — the life of the houses, and how they decay and sometimes die.”

This work by Christopher Robin Nordström, begun in 2021, took two years, including the scaffolding detail that “almost made me insane,” according to the artist.

Though he refers to Tokyo as being “as close as you can get” to the landscapes of Star Wars or Blade Runner, the stories told in Nordström’s are much quieter than sci-fi action sequences. The dilapidated signage, deteriorating awnings, rusting infrastructure, and fading facades live not in the future, but firmly in the present — or hanging on as vestiges of the past.

Nordström uses his education in fine arts and product design to work as a freelance designer for retailers, with model-making and miniatures as a sort of sideline. Currently, he is studying art at the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm, and beginning to show work that is conceptual and sometimes miniature-related. Miniature works attract him for the challenge, the aspects of control, and the required skills and patience.

A scene from Nordström’s workshop: pieces of Tokyo at 1:20 scale

“I like breaking an already physically small project into even smaller parts,” he said. “And just to be able to hold the hold project in your arms.”

Nordström finds his inspiration by taking “walks” using Google Maps’s street view, often compelled by corner spots or houses with a demolished structure next door. His fabrication techniques are far-ranging, including 3D printing, casting, photo etching in brass, and sculpting, and he builds at 1:20 scale, embracing a non-commercial scale which means he can’t “cheat” and buy details.

“One of my goals with these models is to make the spectators feel that they are somewhere else,” Nordström said. “To pull them into a world they either haven’t been to, or maybe make them revisit a place they have been to before.”

A recently completed miniature work by Christopher Robin Nordström, a freelance designer and artist who replicates buildings in Tokyo that he finds on Google Maps. (all images courtesy the artist, composites by Hyperallergic)
Nordström has a particular genius for air conditioning units and other small details, which he typically 3D-prints and then molds in silicon so they can be replicated in future builds.
A public restroom complete with interior details like a toilet paper roll and urinal
Detail from Nordström’s 2023 corner shop

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