The dilapidated building with its 144 gray prefab living pods is a rare remaining example of Japanese metabolism but its future has been compromised for years.
When the building in the Ginza district was originally constructed, it was planned that the free-standing modules would be repaired or replaced every 25 years. The 13-story tower was also designed to be a “cheap overnight hostel for workers” rather than a pile of tiny permanent homes.
Each light, steel-trussed capsule measures 2.5m by 4m with a circular window 1.3m in diameter above the bed dominating the end of the room. Resembling a stack of washing machines, the pods are connected to – and cantilevered – one of the two main steel and reinforced concrete cores by just four high-tension bolts.
The capsules have a wall of built-in appliances and cabinets on one side, including a stove, refrigerator, TV, and reel tape recorder. The toilet blocks are the size of airplane toilets.
In his book 20th century architectureJonathan Glancey wrote, “It’s the kind of architecture that can be done in basic Lego sets and, like Lego bricks, its construction is simple but very clever.”
“Living space is always precious in Tokyo, so the ‘living capsule’ made sense here, but the tower was also a living expression of ideas floating around the world about creating instant cities.
“The idea that ‘living capsules’ could be added when needed was appealing at a time when the technology was becoming available to make the dream come true.”
Replica of a sample room, type Nakagin Capsule Tower
Although the units were designed to be detachable and mobile, none were ever replaced and the tower gradually fell into disrepair.
At the end of 2012, only about 30 of the 140 capsules remained in use as apartments, with the rest being used for storage or simply abandoned. A series of attempts to save the building, including a decision to sell the individual modules, have all failed.
According to reports, the building will be covered with scaffolding during demolition, with the capsules being “ripped out one by one, most likely behind protective plastic sheets as they contain asbestos”.
Metabolism was a postwar Japanese architectural movement that viewed buildings as evolving megastructures that could change, like an organism.
In preparation for the 1960 Tokyo World Design Conference, a group of young architects and designers, including Kurokawa, Kiyonori Kikutake, and Fumihiko Maki, wrote their manifesto on metabolism. This is a series of four essays titled OceanCity, Space City, Towards group formand matter and man.
Other famous metabolistic structures to be realized included Kenzo Tange’s Yamanashi Press and Broadcasting Center in 1967 in Koful, Japan.