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alan wolfson’s minature urban landscapes

The images below look like they might be photographs but they are actually parts of New Yorker Alan Wolfson’s miniature urban scenes (mostly of NYC) – dioramas made almost completely out of acrylic and styrene plastic.

Wolfson never puts people in the scenes but he wants you to have the feeling that someone was just there, adding tiny tell-tale signs within each piece – a tip on a table in a restaurant, graffiti on a subway wall, garbage on the side of a street.

“Writers have said that my work creates a safe way of being a voyeur.  There’s something mysterious and intriguing and even attractive about those environments, but I don’t know how comfortable most people feel in them in real life.  Creating them gives me a window into them but also allows me to maintain control over them; I can have the experience of having been to these places without having to confront the people who inhabit them.”

He gives just enough to begin the narrative and expects you to complete the story – Wolfson wants you to be involved; wants you to reminisce; wants you to create the dialogue.

The quarter in the image above shows how small these scenes are. . .


An urban landscape can take up to 18 months to complete and Wolfson has a rule – a self imposed rule – that he must make every piece of the scene, including lighting and graphics.

“I usually work in ½ in = 1 foot scale, which is half the size of dollhouse scale.  The first few pieces I did were in dollhouse scale, but I decided to change to the smaller scale so I could build more intricate environments in the same-sized space.  I also find the smaller scale more “intimate.”  If I’m building a view out a window, that would be built at a smaller scale than the room interior to force the perspective.”

Canal Street Cross Section

The images in today’s post are from Alan Wolfson’s Canal Street Cross Section, a scene that depicts three levels of a Manhattan street. It is his most ambitious undertaking to date.

Watch the video below to learn more (NOTE: Although the sound in the video is fine, the timing is slightly off)


Alan Wolfson’s website, where you will find many more images of Canal Street Cross Section and more than four dozen other urban landscapes – including several diners and Nathan’s, Coney Island (that’s for you mom!).

More about Canal Street Cross Section here



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