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Almost Five Decades On, The Future of Tokyo’s Famed Metabolist Structure Remains Intact. Inside the Unreal Build of the Nakagin Capsule Tower.

On the outskirts of Tokyo’s foremost high-end commercial area Ginza where both old and new luxury stores amalgamate, find a curious lego-like structure: the Nakagin Capsule Tower building built in 1972.

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Situated directly in front of a collection of skyscrapers known as the Shiodome Shio-Site, the Nakagin twin tower building consists of two connected, yet individuals towers. Tower A is comprised of 13 stories with Tower B slightly lower in height with 11 stories, both built surrounding their individual core, elevator columns acting as a foundation for their combined 140 capsules. The most distinctive feature of the building design is the modular capsule units comprised of four high-tension bolts attached to the central core that can withhold two tonnes of weight, and can be easily removed and reattached as required. In the 1970’s, Japan was in the midst of a high economic growth period, commonly finding travellers from all across the country stopping in Tokyo’s city centre for business. The Nakagin Capsule Tower was originally marketed as a luxury multi-purpose second home for a wealthy consumer. The building’s architect Kisho Kurokawa — founder of pivotal Metabolism architecture movement and uncoincidentaly the founder of the Capsule Hotel concept — created his design that fused his idea of architecture and urban structure led by organic biological growth. Through the Nakagin Capsule Tower, he was passionate to realize his founding ideals and original thesis through the challenge of a part-time residential structure.

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Inspired by the traditional Japanese ‘chashitsu’ tea ceremony room, the capsules each feature a large, circular window framing a view of the exterior landscape. In the building’s former years, the site provided a direct view of Mount Fuji — a rare and affluent indulgence — now engulfed by surrounding skyscrapers. Narrow and compact standing at 10 square meters, the capsule interiors featured fully-supplied equipment, allowing its occupants (mostly businessmen) to live efficiently and stylishly in the metropolis. To this day, the rooms retain their original interior facilities, equipped with a bed and a prefabricated bathroom, desk and storage facilities integrated into a shelving system, including an air conditioner, TV, radio, telephone and open-reel recorder.

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At the time in 1972, the architectural design and concept was revolutionary. Each unit was pre-fabricated in a factory in Shiga Prefecture, transported by truck and pulled up with a crane to connect to the shaft. At 2.5 meters wide, 2.5 meters high and 4 meters long, the size of one capsule unit was calculated by the maximum size transportable on a truck conforming to the regulations of the Japanese Road Traffic Act. Once a capsule is removed from the building, it can move freely, sometimes reunite to another unit and create a new building. Kurokawa envisioned migratory and nomadic lifestyles, with an intention for the capsule home’s to be easily interchangeable to other cities. But due to the unprecedented speed and growth of urban city centres, changing lifestyles and technological advances, Kurokawa’s visionary structure remains unchanged. With the passing of time, the building has deteriorated and risked demolishment several times. With an uncertain future, the Nakagin Capsule Tower remains alive by a thread, thriving from the perseverance of its supporters and residents that continue to fight to maintain its existence. As of one of Japan’s most notable architectural structures that reflected a sentient design concept ahead of its time, it retains immense potential through committed revitalization.

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Text: Hisashi Ikai Images: Daisuke Shima (ad hoc inc.)