Nakagin Capsule Tower
Ginza: Notable building
Nakagin Capsule Tower: Ginza
Ginza / Notable building

The Nakagin Capsule Tower is the most important built example of Metabolism, the Japanese avant-garde architectural movement. The building embodies Metabolist theory, which suggests that cities should mimic biological systems to adapt to rapid modernization. The movement began in 1960 with the publication of a manifesto by a group of young designers working under Kenzo Tange, the modernist master. The completion of the Nakagin Capsule Tower in 1972 proved to be a high-water mark for the Metabolist movement and architect Kisho Kurokawa's career.

Each of the tower's 140 capsules is designed to be replaceable. The capsules were prefabricated and then assembled on site with a crane; each is attached to the a central structural core using eight massive bolts. The 10-square-meter capsules were made in a variety of arrangements with amenities like kitchenettes, fold-down desks, and built-in televisions. These fully equipped units were designed for a new class of urban professionals who were always on the go.

The concepts behind the Capsule Tower were influential, but they were never adopted wholesale. Even the capsules themselves were not replaced as Kurokawa intended. On the contrary, building maintenance has been neglected for decades. The hot water system no longer functions and only around thirty capsules are still used as residential apartments.

Despite the protestations of preservationists, the building management is intent on demolishing the structure and erecting a luxury housing complex. So far, they have failed to gain the necessary approval of eighty percent of Capsule owners, but without proper maintenance the building will only fall further into decay.

The Nakagin Capsule Tower's future is uncertain, but some of the glory of its past is still visible in the present. See it while you can.

by Don O'Keefe
Chuo-ku, Ginza 8-16-10.
5 minutes from Tsukijishijo station (Oedo line)
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