Resizing urban landscapes: Chisel & Mouse studio visit

Images and words by Liz Seabrook

Week 41

A silicon mould is being cast from a 3D printed relief of Paris’ Etoile when I arrive at Chisel & Mouse’s Sussex based studio. It’s kind of like watching a really art-house disaster movie as the sticky paste creeps around The Arc de Triomphe and sinks into the tiny courtyard gardens. Looking at the models produced by the family run company, you’d expect their design space to be clean and simple – probably based in London’s Farringdon. Instead, it’s the epitome of rural England; a modest workshop overlooking Ashdown Forest with three dogs lazing about the place.
Fed up of computer programming, four years ago brothers Gavin and Robert Paisley decided to start using their hands to create things. Interested in the possibilities of 3D printing and spurred on by a long-term passion for architecture – “I just always liked it,” says Gavin simply – the pair started to see what they could do.
This here, is a model made using the 3D printer, Robert explains, pointing to a tower block sitting on the workbench. It looks alright, but it doesn’t have that feeling of a luxury product. He’s right, it looks fine, but it’s rough to the touch and very light; it feels inconsequential. It was a sharp awakening to the limitations that 3D printing had in their business plan. Now, they print the first stage – using Sketch-up to create accurate renders from photographers and Google Street View – and make a cast from it, before casting the final model in a high quality plaster. The finished product is perfectly white, smooth and satisfyingly weighty. It’s also where the brand’s “spur of the moment” name came from – a chisel for the traditional plaster casting element, and a mouse for the digital side of things.

Though the printer initially does the majority of the work, there’s a lot of very careful finessing that takes place once the plaster is set. In the studio today, Steve, who helps Gavin and Robert out three days a week is installing fragile metal windows into a model of the Hoover building; bending them into shape and applying glue with a thin piece of dowling, while Gavin gently smoothes the surface of a church spire; I just filed the leg off a unicorn! he laughs, amused if a little frustrated.
The business has expanded quickly, picking up clients such as Fortnum and Masons and high-end architectural firms, as well as self-commissioning a host of famous buildings from the BBC’s Broadcasting House to the Empire State to Bilbao’s compellingly odd Guggenheim Museum. One of the most impressive pieces on display in their workshop is a model of an architect’s South Kensington abode. It’s about half a meter across and includes certain internal features. I think he really built this place with his children in mind, Gavin smiles, pointing out a slide between floors, a fireman’s pole and a hot tub on the roof.
As I leave, Robert hands me a box, taped up with Chisel and Mouse branding, “just a little present.” When I get home, I excitedly tear into the box; it’s Miami’s Century Hotel and it’s probably the best piece of property I’ll ever own in London.