Nakagin Capsule Tower: Timeless Architectural Beauty

Standing tall against the urban skyline of Tokyo is an unusual dominating structure, the Nakagin Capsule Tower.  It is locally known as ‘Nakagin Kapuseru Tawā’. Architect Kisho Kurokawa designed this futuristic structure. This mixed-use scheme was designed as an emblem of Japan’s post-war recovery after World War 2. The ideology behind the same is briefly termed as ‘The Japanese Metabolism Movement’. Kurokawa was one of the strong advocates of Japan’s Metabolist views and its post-war modern aspirations. As a result, he designed the Nakagin Capsule Tower with a highly futuristic outlook.

  • Though built in the year 1972, the ideation of this project was much ahead of its time.
  • Kisho Kurokawa had established the concepts of adaptive architecture and flexible interiors back then itself.
  • Moreover, the building can be termed “futuristic” and “innovative” even today.
  • This structure has truly stood strong against the test of time and has emerged out beautifully.
  • Nakagin Capsule Tower is probably also the only living example of Japan’s Metabolism movement. Therefore, it has become an iconic spot in Tokyo’s Shinbashi district.
  • However, the new backdrop of Tokyo’s social and political fabric seems to have a different stance.
  • This iconic structure now lies in an abandoned state. Moreover, the Nakagin Capsule Tower Tokyo is now under the threat of demolition.
  • The architectural marvel that once acted as the city’s social hotspot may soon be razzed down to debris!

It is worth wondering as to what has led this timeless beauty on the path of decline?

Nakagin Capsule Tower and the Good Times

“Gorgeous architecture; like all great buildings, it is the crystallization of a far-reaching cultural ideal. Its existence also stands as a powerful reminder of paths not taken, of the possibility of worlds shaped by different sets of values.” This is how architectural critic Nicolai Ouroussoff once described the beauty of the Nakagin Capsule Tower. More importantly, there is absolutely no disagreement with this. The futuristic design of the tower reflected sustainability and recyclability in a unique manner. Kisho Kurokawa and Japan’s urban design panel formulated the Nakagin Capsule Tower interior to be a flexible scheme and an iconic identity. This project unleashed the new potential of ‘plug n play’ in architecture.

All about Capsule Architecture

The structure is based on the podium and tower concept lines, which was also a “modernist” move at that time. The twin towers of the Nakagin, with respective eleven and thirteen floors, managed to gain a lot of limelight right since the time of its construction. It was much more than an ambitious project for Ar. Kisho Kurokawa. This was an opportunity to showcase Japan’s reinforced power and ability to recover. It was also an opportunity to put forth a new genre of Capsule architecture.

The main features that made the Nakagin Capsule Tower “sustainable” and “recyclable” are:

  • The central shaft can hold up to 140 self-sufficient units, known as ‘capsules’.
  • Each of these capsules is predesigned with adaptive and custom interior fixtures and amenities.
  • The capsules could be plugged and unplugged from the central shaft whenever needed.
  • The design also offers the flexibility to change the orientation as well as the configuration of these capsules.
  • Capsules could also be clubbed to form a customized configuration.

The main aim here was to create a sustainable facility for professionals who keep switching their cities. This concept was also perfect for those looking for an economical option, right in the center of Tokyo city. The highlight of this project lies in the ideation process. Moreover, the external features like the asbestos facade and the circular window added a minimalistic look to the facade. Each unit being a separate entity, the edge lines added a sense of play to the elevation.

Iconic Identity

The construction of the Nakagin capsule Tower brought a lot of laurels to Japan and Architect Kisho Kurokawa. Nakagin Capsule Tower and Kisho Kurokawa, both these names go hand in hand. The design brought together professionals from different facets. Achieving something like this is surely a trans-structural work of Architects, engineers, product designers, and other stakeholders. This gained traction because Kurokawa was successful in delivering a unique ‘imagery’. Imagery that showcases the city as ‘Dynamic’, moving towards innovation. As a result, the Nakagin capsule tower started getting viewed as a reflection of the “new Japan”. It helped the people of Japan to associate their modern aspirations with that of the nation as a whole.

Moreover, this dynamic advent in the genre of capsule architecture gained a lot of significance in pop culture. It soon became an iconic reference in architectural literary works. Nakagin Capsule Tower become a photogenic “hotspot” for locals as well as travelers. Getting clicked with a backdrop of Tokyo’s Capsule Tower became popular amongst bloggers, tourists, and photographers. Even a lot of Hollywood movies have also featured this building in several scenes. It also still remains a top reference in the literary works on architecture and Japan’s metabolism movement

The uncertain future of the Nakagin Capsule Tower

The fate of the Nakagin Capsule Tower is hanging between two opposite notions. The idea of preserving it for its architectural significance seems to have lost against the idea of enchasing the benefits of the land at the prime spot of Tokyo city.

  • It is heart wrecking to see that the once glorious Nakagin Capsule Tower is now on the path of ruins.
  • Talks of Nakagin Capsule Tower demolition have been doing rounds for a long time now.
  • After the death of Kisho Kurokawa, the owners of the building started speculating the idea of the demolition of this structure, which was once an emblem for modern Japan and metabolism in architecture.
  • Nakagin might be razed down soon to make way for high-end residential buildings.
  • After all, it is private property and the government of Japan has no stance on it.
  • It is indeed a failure that the structure that once depicted the country’s ideologies is now getting neglected.

Abandonment of Nakagin Capsule Tower:

  • A lot of owners have left the tower abandoned. The “dynamic” and “self-sustaining” capsules lie unattended.
  • Owners now complain of the space crunch and heating and air conditioning issues due to the unconventional asbestos facade.
  • Moreover, the plans for future expansion and adaptation as designed by Kurokawa never materialized.
  • The feature of unplugging and plugging and changing configurations does not seem feasible in the present time. It is surely a costly affair.
  • Owners find it more economical to demolish the whole structure to make a way for much more spacious and economical units for themselves.

Whatsoever, Nakagin’s end seems to be near. The Nakagin Capsule Tower and Kisho Kurokawa bond seem to be in danger. Whose failure is it? Is it the society and the political stakeholders who seemed to have changed their priorities with changing times? Or is it the architecture that failed to consider economic aspects in design?

The Nagakin Capsule tower today!

The Impact

Why is the future of Tokyo’s Nakagin Capsule Building so important? Isn’t it obvious that the general public would anyways not car for ‘Art’ over their gains? However, this is not any random building that we are talking about. Nakagin is an architectural heritage. Nakagin Capsule Tower demolition is genuinely a worrisome topic for architectural patrons around the world. This building has been an emblem of Japan’s ideologies. This has been the imagery that has helped the country to establish its space in the global scenarios. Moreover, it is also a path-breaking work by the pioneers of Japan’s metabolism.

If we allow the Nakagin capsule tower demolition, it will be our failure as a fraternity. Is it not the government’s prerogative to preserve such significant works that mark the events of history? If no heed is paid, the future of heritage structures would be adversely affected. It would also imply the devaluation of iconic art and architecture. Demolition of the Nakagin Tower will also lead to demolitions of ideologies, art, and history. If the responsible stakeholders of Tokyo or Japan now fail to channel Nakagin’s future to a better path, soon will be a day when every architectural wonder will pose the same threat.

A ray of Hope

We surely hope for justice to Nakagin’s deteriorating conditions. The stakeholders must realize the importance and act accordingly. It is commendable that even in today’s abandoned state, Nakagin Capsule Tower attracts a lot of tourists and architectural enthusiasts. Conserving this space and turning it into an architectural tourist site can help the government economically as well.

However, the stakes of private investors also need consideration. There needs to be a social and political intervention to find a way to satisfy the owners whilst preserving the heritage. If the authorities continue to have no stance in this regard, there will surely be a negative impact on the future of architecture. Buildings have been a part of our social and cultural development. It is extremely derogatory to not recognize the importance and position of heritage works.

2 thoughts on “Nakagin Capsule Tower: Timeless Architectural Beauty

  1. Maybe the nagakin tower will pave way for another futuristic building…since nagaki tower was also built on the same set of ideology

    1. It surely paved the way for a lot of buildings. Habitat 67 was very much inspired by metabolism movement. Whereas, the Yamanashi press and Radio centre was also constructed following the same movement and the same principles right after the Nakagin capsule tower.

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