Alan Rose

Alan Rose was born in Regensburg, German in 1948, the son of an Army servicemember. The family lived in Japan, Colorado and Mississippi before settling in Baltimore where Alan spent his teenage years. Rose studied art for three years at the Maryland Institue of Art before dropping out to work as a freelance graphic designer. He lived briefly in San Francisco before moving to New York in the early 1970s. He illustrated and designed a wide variety of projects, including art nouveau rock band posters and a Quicksilver Messenger Service album. He worked at the short-lived Baltimore alternative newspaper Harry and created the titles for Pink Flamingos and several other Roger Waters movies. From 1974 to 1988 Rose worked as a graphic designer and illustrator for National Lampoon magazine.

Artist photo from 1982 People magazine article

One Sunday afternoon in the fall of 1979, according to a newspaper account, Rose and some friends were passing the time by building a paper model kit, very likely Edmund Gillon's Early New England Village model. "You know,'' one of the friends exclaimed, ''this is really boring! Kid stuff! Why doesn't somebody design something for grownups, something that's really challenging to build?'' Looking out the apartment window, Rose spied the Empire State Building, and decided it would be a worthy subject for just such a complex model kit. Within a week, according to his retelling, he had finished a prototype.

Cover image showing the large scale of Build Your Own Empire State Building (1980)

Taking along the 4-foot tall prototype model of the skyscraper, Rose pitched the idea to several publishers and finally convinced Perigee to take a chance on selling the kit to a national market. Initially sales were slow, but when a New York bookstore featured a completed example of the model in its display window, curious customers took notice. Within a year the book had sold 80,000 copies. A companion model kit of the Brooklyn Bridge was published at the same time, with the Chrysler Building just a month later. For the Brooklyn Bridge model, Rose was able to work from architectural drawings to start the kit, but the Chrysler Building was more challenging, as he was unable to find any such information. Instead he relied on photographs and the help of a friend who had access to the upper floors of the building to create an accurate to-scale design.

In 1981, the "World at Your Feet" series expanded to other iconic landmarks from around the world. Most of the subjects are large structures, and the built-up models are over-sized as well, made up of large pieces split up on numerous pages. The Sears Tower model stands over four feet tall and is made from five stacked sections which are limited in size by the 11-inch height of the book pages.

A snarky little detail from Build Your Own U.S. Capitol (1981)

The illustration style is simple in detail, with flat colors and often repetitive rows of windows or other elements. Some of the models feature humorous little "easter eggs", such as a small King Kong to climb the Empire State Building (who also shows up at the Eiffel Tower, oddly), a Godzilla to topple the Japanese pagoda, and a miniature semi-truck of b.s. ready to unload at the U.S. Capitol.

After the success of the "World at Your Feet" and "World on the Move" models, Rose designed three unique paper model books for Doubleday. These also build up into enormous models, but the completed designs of the Twentieth-Century Limited train, Corvette sports car and DC-3 airplane only include half of each vehicle! The train and car are split down the center, so that a mirror might complete the illusion of a full model, while the DC-3 is chopped midway at the trailing edge of the wings. We might theorize that the publisher may have slashed the printing budget and lost a few pages, but instead it seems that Rose intended for these to be eye-catching paper sculptures rather than realistic scale models, and that he was more interested in making them as large as possible than complete in form. Hopefully the customers who originally bought the books were not too disappointed they'd received only half of the subject.

In the late 1990s, the artist created two new paper model books in a quite different style featuring colorful vernacular architecture. These die-cut tab-in-slot models are simple in form, with just the front and part of the sides of each structure, but the photo-realistic artwork makes them seem more dimensional and detailed.

Punch-out facades of the Colony and Century hotels from Miami Beach Deco (1997)

Photographs of the real buildings were manipulated in Photoshop to create the imagery and textures which extend beyond the die-cut outlines, one of the first published paper models to use this technique. Each book is a little collection of tiny touristic Americana, but the Route 66 book includes stickers and reproductions of matchbooks and other roadside souvenirs as well as the scale model buildings.

In 1981, Rose married and moved to Springfield, Massachusetts where he lived for many years. Alan Rose passed away in New York City in 2015.

A complete list of published paper model work by Alan Rose:

October 1980 The World at Your Feet: Build Your Own Empire State Building, Perigee Books ISBN: 0399505067
October 1980 The World at Your Feet: Build Your Own Brooklyn Bridge, Perigee Books ISBN: 0399505040
November 1980 The World at Your Feet: Build Your Own Chrysler Building, Perigee Books ISBN: 0399505059
April 1981 The World at Your Feet: Build Your Own Eiffel Tower, Perigee Books ISBN: 0399505350
May 1981 The World at Your Feet: Build Your Own Sears Tower, The World's Tallest Building, Perigee Books ISBN: 0399505369
September 1981 The World at Your Feet: Build Your Own U.S. Capitol and Washington Monument, Perigee Books ISBN: 0399505342
November 1981 The World at Your Feet: Build Your Own Taj Mahal, Perigee Books ISBN: 0399505628
November 1981 The World on the Move: Build Your Own Titanic, Perigee Books ISBN: 0399505644
January 1982 The World at Your Feet: Build Your Own Tower Bridge and Tower of London, Perigee Books ISBN: 0399505660
August 1982 The World at Your Feet: Build Your Own Japanese Pagoda, Perigee Books ISBN: 0399506799
August 1982 The World on the Move: Build Your Own Cable Car, Perigee Books ISBN: 039950558X
October 1982 The World on the Move: Build Your Own Saturn V, Perigee Books ISBN: 0399506810
November 1982 Build Your Own Walt Disney's Cinderella Castle, Perigee Books ISBN: 0399506543
March 1983 The World at Your Feet: Build Your Own Vatican, Perigee Books ISBN: 0399507434
September 1983 The World on the Move: Build Your Own Hindenburg, Perigee Books ISBN: 0399508643
May 1984 Twentieth Century Limited, Doubleday ISBN: 0385277679
October 1984 The 1984 Paper Corvette, Doubleday ISBN: 0385277687
1985 DC-3: 6'4" paper model of the world's most famous airplane, Doubleday ISBN: 0385277695
January 1997 Miami Beach Deco, St. Martin's Griffon - 1:87 scale die-cut photorealistic facade models of twelve art deco buildings in Miami Beach ISBN: 0312146795
July 1998 Route 66 Souvenirs, St. Martin's Griffon - 1:87 scale die-cut photorealistic facade models of various buildings along Route 66, along with punch-out postcards, stickers, and other ephemera ISBN: 0312187556


Alan Rose Obituary, New York Times, July 24, 2015

"Empire State Buildings for King Kongs With Scissors and Paste", Glenn Collins, New York Times, Oct 30, 1980

"Paperback Talk", Ray Walters, New York Times, Oct 25, 1981

"Want to Buy the Brooklyn Bridge? Alan Rose's Miniatures Stir a Building Boom in Bookstores", People magazine, May 24, 1982

Royal Books - items from Alan Rose estate