Metabolism in architecture – A movement where buildings could grow and evolve like humans!

While looking at the ever-evolving city landscapes of Japan, it has proven the most cliché saying, that “necessity is the mother of invention”!

Architects in the 1960-70s of Japan took their concepts quite literally. A movement called “Metabolism” came into the limelight soon after the end of world war II. Reconstruction of cities damaged due to the war spawned innovative ideas about the construction and design of urban and public spaces in the country. Japanese Metabolist architects believed, that cities and buildings are not static entities, but are ever-changing and organic, with a Metabolism. This lead to a movement that was entirely based upon exploring how a city’s buildings could evolve and grow like human beings living in it.

What is metabolism in architecture?

To get a better hold of metabolism movement in architecture, we need to dive deep into the concept, history, and evolution of this futuristic movement. That being said, ideas always evolve from the past, inspire us, and help us build a better future.


This Si-Fi style metabolism movement in architecture began in the early 1960s soon after the end of World War II. Due to the post-war conditions, a large number of people started moving towards the cities to help Japan’s economy. This migration created a dire need for architects and designers to come up with more innovative and futuristic ideas. These ideas needed to cope up with the cities damages and create a better living for the migrants. In 1960, a world design conference was held in Tokyo. There, a group of young Japanese architects stood up and challenged conventional European ideas about static urbanism.  Metabolism 1960- A proposal for new urbanism. was a result of the collective efforts and hard work of Kenzo Tange, Kiyonori Kikutake, Kisho Kurokawa, and Fumihiko Maki. This futuristic approach lead these architects to later become the pioneers of contemporary Tokyo architecture.

The concept and the evolution:

In the proposal of metabolism in architecture, Kisho Kurokawa and other architects planned on creating a city that could grow, transform, and die just like every living being on earth. The proposal included residential as well as public building with interchangeable cells which could:

  1. Evolve– change in size and shape internally.
  2. Die– the cell could be removed or altered when required to amalgamate with the needs of residents and the city.

Metabolism in Architecture was not just confined to Kisho Kurokawa and the team. It influenced many others to come up with innovative futuristic ideas. During 1960, in the world design conference, Kenzo Tange presented a futuristic concept for the floating city in Tokyo bay. In 1961, many US architects exhibited their concepts too. American architect Anne Tyng exhibited her concept of the City Tower design while Austrian-born Friedrich St. Florian’s represented his 300-story Vertical City. Also, one of the most renowned architects, Louis I Kahn himself was influenced by the works on his Anne Tyng. Similarly, architect Moshe Safdie, who apprenticed Louis Kahn was highly influenced by the concept of metabolism in architecture. He incorporated a lot of characteristics form metabolism into his breakthrough Habitat 67’ in Montreal, Canada.

Best examples of Metabolism in architecture:

Nakagin Capsule Tower, Tokyo

1. The Nakagin Capsule Tower, Tokyo

One of the most prominent examples born out of metabolism movement in architecture is Kisho Kurokawa’s Nakagin Capsule Tower in Ginza, Tokyo. Though the building might seem like a stacked pile of front loader washing machines. However, it is encompassed of over 100 prefabricated apartments, called “cells”. These cells are individually bolted into the shaft and are removable as per the need and requirements of the user.

Each cell is a fully equipped apartment that holds all the basic amenities required for people living in the city. It consists of a bed, cupboards, desk, and a bathroom. The apartments gave out a dystopian vibe, due to the lack of space and a more machine-like structure. The whole idea behind creating these cells was to create a living that was futuristic, practical, and most importantly, flexible.

Yamanashi Press and Radio Centre

2. Yamanashi Press and Radio Centre, Kofu

Designed by architect Kenzo Tange, this mega Lego-like structure, Yamanashi Press and Radio Centre was intended to be a media factory. It could accommodate a newspaper printing press, a radio station, and a television studio. The structure is supported on 16 permanent columns into which the slabs are inserted. These slabs could be slotted or taken out as per the requirements of the users. This innovative structure was completed in 1966, today the building is known as Yamanashi cultural hall.

Apart from these 2 futuristic structures, there were several other buildings that were designed, influenced by metabolism movement in architecture. However, they could not sync with all the aspects of the same. Buildings such as “Habitat 67”, and the pavilions that evoked cells and genetic material at Osaka Expo of 1970 by Kikutake and Kurokawa showed extraordinary use of the characteristics of metabolism. Though this movement could not flourish worldwide. However, it did inspire a lot of architects and designers in creating better futuristic sustainable strategies for a better tomorrow!