Built in 1972, Tokyo’s Nakagin Capsule Tower looks very modernistic, resembling blocks of front-loading washing machines stacked one on top of another. In fact, they are blocks that can be replaced when one needs changing after succumbing to the climate and wear and tear. Architect Kisho Kurokawa developed this urban space to initially house single professionals working downtown. View this example of Japan’s Metabolism architectural movement that was introduced at the 1960 World Design Conference.
Gaze up at the tower, which looks a bit like the starting setup for a Jenga game. The building is made up of 140 cubes or pods. Each one measures 8 feet by 12 feet by 7 feet (2.4 meters 3.7 meters by 2.1 meters) and comes with a single large circular window. The interior consists of a built-in bed, bathroom and a modern-looking console that houses a work desk, drawers, TV, microwave and phone. Original construction included a reel-to-reel tape deck, 1970s technology that was cutting-edge at the time.
Each unit of the 14-story structure is anchored to a concrete core using four high-tension bolts to allow for it to be replaced easily when required, although none have yet been changed. However, the tower has not been maintained well for decades, which has led to drainage problems and damaged water pipes. Efforts are underway to correct the problems, but a parallel movement to have the structure torn down began in 2006.
Kurokawa passed away in 2007 not knowing what would happen to his iconic example of Metabolism. Visit this ambitious project with a future that is somewhat in jeopardy as the current occupancy rate is far less than half of what it was designed for.
Come to Tokyo’s Ginza area to see the Nakagin Capsule Tower by taking a short walk from the Shimbashi metro station. Tours of the building are available through at least one company, Tokyo Architecture Walking Tours.