kisho kurokawa: nakagin capsule tower building
kisho kurokawa: nakagin capsule tower building
nov 18, 2011

kisho kurokawa: nakagin capsule tower building

‘capsule from the nakagin capsule tower building’ on display at mori art museum  image © designboom

‘metabolism – the city of the future – dreams and visions of reconstruction in postwar and present-day japan’, on at the mori art museum in tokyo, japan until january 15th, 2012.

japanese architecture took a daring glance at a possible future when, in 1972, kisho kurokawa completed the ‘nakagin capsule tower building’. the two towers were built on the idea that structures, much like in nature, could be created out of cells. 140 individual pods could be changed and moved as needed, creating a flexible and adaptable unit. the towers consisted of a fixed central column to which these individual capsules could be bolted and removed with four high-tension bolts. the idea was that every 25 years or so, the pods could be replaced, giving the building a 200 year life span.  

the perceivable future seemed to warrant a structure like this. kurokawa imagined a world where people no longer needed a single dwelling but instead would live a more nomadic lifestyle, interchanging between various homes, living in up to five different places. his audience was international business men who, working late, would need only a small area to rest and rejuvenate before heading to their next destination. 

‘individuals should be protected by capsules in which they can reject information they do not need and in which they are sheltered from information they do not want, thereby allowing an individual to recover his subjectivity and independence‘ – kisho kurokawa

kisho kurokawa: nakagin capsule tower building view of back  image © designboomthese concepts came from the japanese metabolism movement, to which kurokawa was a dedicated contributor. the small group of architects imagined a world of flexible cities where buildings, like people, were transient and ever changing. known as avant-garde architecture, the architects believed that traditional fixed forms were no longer applicable to the modern lifestyle. the ‘nakagin capsule towers’ were a direct demonstration of these manifestos, and although the group no longer exists, its ideas have been the basis of countless projects since.

the individual capsules are 2.3 m × 3.8 m x 2.1 m (7.5 ft x 12 ft x 6.9 ft) and include a bed, storage area and a small bathroom, just enough space for one person. the concrete units were prefabricated off site in a factory and shipped to the location upon completion to be attached to central blocks. each pod was fully equipped, much like a hotel, enabling the residents to live there without the hassle of moving in. a built-in television, fixtures, sheets and even a toothbrush was included in each individual habitat.

kisho kurokawa: nakagin capsule tower building graphic promotion of the metabolism exhibit at the mori art museum printed onto the capsule  image © designboom

unfortunately, the world was not yet ready for this drastic change of lifestyle. although the building was based on the idea of transformation, no updates were ever initiated. the original capsules, installed in 1972, are still there almost 40 years later (including their televisions). although structures like this require maintenance, there was no initiative to preserve or update the quarters. intended for a different way of life, the owners tried to adapt it to a traditional one, with entire families trying to squeeze into a single pod.

time and lack of maintenance have taken their toll. leaking pipes, mildew and asbestos have made living there dangerous for the residents. instead of changing the pods and renovating the building, as was the intention, the residents voted to tear down the building and reconstruct a new one in its place. until his death in 2007, kurokawa fought to keep the structure and update the capsules as he originally planned. for designboom’s account on the future demolition, click here

although it is evident that the structure needs some work, demolishing the building instead of renovating it is a testament to the power of a profit-driven society. since kurokawa’s death, there has been no real initiative to preserve this monument dedicated to forward thinking. instead, it has become a demonstration of the lack of appreciation for not just architectural history but also the possibility that was once encapsulated in the structure. 

kisho kurokawa: nakagin capsule tower building view into capsule through the circular window  image © designboom

‘in japan, prefabricated housing was developed in the 1950s and 1960s to produce housing using factory-made components that could be assembled on site. one of the precursors of this prefab architecture was syowa station, designed by asada takashi. meanwhile, kurokawa kisho fitted all the functions of a house into a detachable capsule that could be swapped in and out to accommodate changes in the urban environment. this idea was realized in his nakagin capsule tower bulding. one of the focuses of this exhibition is how prefab architecture and capsule architecture affected subsequent housing architecture.‘ – the mori art museum 

one of the capsules from the building is on show during the exhibition ‘metabolism – the city of the future – dreams and visions of reconstruction in postwar and present-day japan’ at the mori art museum .

kisho kurokawa: nakagin capsule tower building interior view  image © designboom

kisho kurokawa: nakagin capsule tower building capsule includes built in radio, phone and television image © designboom

kisho kurokawa: nakagin capsule tower building interior view of ‘nakagin capsule tower building’ (1972) by kurokawa kisho ‘metabolism, the city of the future: dreams and visions of reconstruction in postwar and present-day japan’ installation view: mori art museum image © watanabe osamu, courtesy of mori art museum

kisho kurokawa: nakagin capsule tower building view of building image © designboom

kisho kurokawa: nakagin capsule tower building (right)’summer house k’ another work by kurokawa based on the same idea of using capsules  (left)the towers during construction  image © ohashi tomio

kisho kurokawa: nakagin capsule tower building poster of the metabolism movement  ‘nakagin capsule tower building’ (1972) by kurokawa kisho ‘metabolism, the city of the future: dreams and visions of reconstruction in postwar and present-day japan’ image courtesy: mori art museum

kisho kurokawa: nakagin capsule tower building isometric, floor plans and diagram demonstrating the bolt system images courtesy of lewism 

kisho kurokawa: nakagin capsule tower building section of the tower  images courtesy of the department of civil and structural engineering from the hong kong polytechnic university 

  • SUPER!!! says:
  • RIP

    dbkii says:
  • home sweet home

    simon says:
  • Incredible architecture. I could expect no less from Japan. They have always been so amazing with so many things including technology and architecture. The country has always been the most up-to-date and advanced in terms of futuristic ideas. I have always looked up to the Japanese people for their work ethic and talent to make marvellous changes in society.

    Kilie Peterson says:
  • Can’t believe that they are taking it down.

    hoh says:

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