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Standing tall against the urban skyline of Tokyo is an unusual and visually dominating structure, Nakagin Capsule tower Tokyo.  Locally known as ‘Nakagin Kapuseru Tawā’, this masterpiece was designed by architect Kisho Kurokawa. This mixed-use scheme was designed as an emblem of Japan’s post-war recovery. This ideology 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 Nakagin Capsule tower building with an outlook that was future aesthetic.

Though built in the year 1972, the ideation was much ahead of its time. Kisho Kurokawa had established the concepts of adaptive architecture and flexible interiors back then itself. Even today it is referred to as ‘futuristic’ and ‘innovative’. This structure has truly stood strong against the test of time and has emerged out beautifully. Nakagin capsule tower building is probably also the only living example of Japan’s Metabolism movement. Therefore, it has become an iconic spot in Tokyo’s Shinbashi district.

But off lately, 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. The Nakagin Capsule Tower Tokyo is now under the threat of demolition. The Nakagin that once used to be 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 how Architectural critic Nicolai Ouroussoff once described the beauty of the Nakagin capsule tower plan. And there is no disagreement with this. The futuristic design reflected sustainability and recyclability in a unique manner. Kisho Kurokawa along with Japan’s urban design panel formulated the Nakagin Capsule Tower interior not only to be a flexible scheme but also an iconic identity. This project unleashed the new potential of ‘plug n play’ in architecture.

Capsule Architecture

The structure is based on the lines of the podium and tower concept, 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. Rather 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 plan ‘sustainable’ and ‘recyclable were:

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

The main aim was to create a sustainable facility for the travelling businessmen and to those looking for feasible as well as economical options right in the centre of Tokyo city. Whereas, some capsules were also used as an office or residential space. 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 as well as to Architect Kisho Kurokawa. Nakagin Capsule tower 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 plan was viewed as a reflection of the ‘new future’. It was thus helped the people of Japan to associate their modern aspirations with that of the nation as a whole.

Thus, this dynamic advent in the genre of capsule architecture gained a lot of significance in pop culture. It soon became a reference in architectural literary works. Nakagin Capsule tower Building was also known to have become an Instagram ‘hotspot’. Getting clicked in the backdrop of Tokyo’s Capsule Tower was soon on the bucket list of travel bloggers, tourists, and photographers. A lot of Hollywood movies have also featured this building in several scenes. It is also on the top reference in the literary works on architecture and the book’s Japan’s metabolism movement

The uncertain future of the Nakagin Capsule Tower

The future of the Nakagin capsule tower is left hanging between two opposite notions. The idea of preserving it for its architectural significance seem to have lost against the idea of enchasing the benefits of the land in 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 metabolism. To make way for larger houses and better residential units, Nakagin might be razed down. 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 in now to be demolished. It is a failure that the structure that gave us the concepts of ‘flexibility’ and ‘recyclability’ is to be demolished.

A lot of owners have left the space abandoned. The ‘dynamic’ and ‘self-sustaining’ capsules have been left in disrepair and unattended.  Owners now complain of the space crunch and issues with heating and air conditioning due to the unconventional asbestos facade. Moreover, the plans for future expansion and adaption as designed by Kurokawa never materialized. The feature of unplugging and plugging and changing configurations do 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 Kisho Kurokawa bond seems 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 fails 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? But 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 the 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. Nevertheless, 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 in this regard the future of heritage structures would be adversely affected. This would imply that art and architecture are no longer cared for. Demolition of the Nakagin Tower will also lead to demolitions of ideologies, art, and history. It is indeed a loss of the meticulously planned Nakagin capsule tower interior schemes. 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 can only hope that justice is served to Nakagin’s deteriorating conditions. The stakeholders must realize the importance and act accordingly. Restoration and preservation of such wonders would help to a great extent. It is commendable that even in today’s abandoned state, Nakagin Capsule tower Tokyo attracts a lot of tourists and architectural enthusiasts for an architectural tour. Conserving this space and turning it into an architectural tourist site can help the government economically as well. This does not mean in any way that injustice should be done to the owners.

The political and social advancements of today can surely suggest a way wherein the interests of both sides are best preserved. If the authorities continue to have no stance in this regard, there will 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.

Sudarshan Uppunda

2 Replies to “Fading glory of the timeless beauty: Nakagin Capsule Tower”

  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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