a capsule from tokyo's demolished nakagin capsule tower is landing at SFMOMA

a capsule from tokyo's demolished nakagin capsule tower is landing at SFMOMA

sfmoma acquires capsule A1302 from the iconic nakagin tower

 

On May 18, 2023, The San Francisco Museum of Art (SFMOMA) became the first museum to acquire a Capsule from the iconic Nakagin Capsule Tower built in Ginza, Tokyo, in 1972. One of architect Kisho Kurokawa’s earliest projects, the landmark spanned thirteen floors and featured two central towers with 140 small, prefabricated living units (capsules) attached to them — a unique design emblematic of Japan’s post-war Metabolism movement. Sadly, on October 5, 2022, the city tore down the central tower and most of the capsules. 23 units were successfully saved through the extraordinary efforts of the Nakagin Capsule Tower Preservation and Restoration Project, led by Tatsuyuki Maeda. 

a capsule from tokyo's demolished nakagin capsule tower is landing at SFMOMA
San Francisco Museum of Art (SFMOMA) | image by Jon McNeal, © Snøhetta

 

 

From these saved units, SFMOMA (see more here) selected Capsule A1302 to include as part of its Japanese architecture, design, and photography collections. Originally owned by Kurokawa himself, this living unit boasted a prime location on the tower’s highest floor and was featured in several movies. A1302 has been carefully restored in close conversation with the architect’s office, curators, and historians; it contains original features and electronics available to buyers who customized their units in 1972. Given its small dimensions (2.5 m x 4 m x 2.5 m), the Capsule’s new fate realizes Kurokowa’s wish that his creations not remain fixed but rather move to other locations.

 

In addition to SFMOMA’s acquisition of Capsule A1302, the museum has collected nine photographs by Noritaka Minami from his ‘1972/Accumulated’ series, documenting the unique interiors of living at the Nakagin Capsule Tower between 2010 and 2022. You can catch designboom’s feature on Minami’s photographs here

a capsule from tokyo's demolished nakagin capsule tower is landing at SFMOMA
Nakagin Capsule Tower facade (2011) | image © Noritaka Minami – archival pigment print

 

 

on impermanence: symbolizing japan’s metabolism movement

 

Revisiting its story, the Nakagin Capsule Tower was part of the Metabolism movement, an architectural ideology founded in post-war Japan between the late 1950s and early 1960s. A group of young architects and designers, including Kiyonori Kikutake, Kisho Kurokawa, and Fumihiko Maki – all heavily influenced by the architect Kenzo Tange – created the Metabolism manifesto. Kisho Kurokawa was effectively the youngest of seven cofounders of the Architectural Metabolist movement. By 1962, he opened his own practice, which is still active to this day, long after his passing in 2007, at the age of 73. 

 

The Tokyo-based Metabolist architects put forward a distinctly Japanese architectural approach that recognized the impermanence of buildings, technology, and people and the longevity of concepts, traditions, and nature. More specifically, they based their manifesto on the Japanese concept of ‘shinchintaisha’, a biological term for cell adaptation to sustain life. This term also refers to the Buddhist nototion of renewal and regeneration. Following this concept, the Metabolist principle proposes architectural megastructures that are not static entities but rather dynamic ones that can organically change, respond, and adapt to their context. 

a capsule from tokyo's demolished nakagin capsule tower is landing at SFMOMA
capsule being moved | image courtesy PR TIMES

 

 

The Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo is one of a few built works during the peak of the Metabolism movement period. The idea was that individual living units could be replaced or even moved to different locations. Initially billed in the real estate documents as ‘Business Capsules’ for private workspaces during the week, the prefabricated units featured a single circular window, a full bathroom, a built-in bed, and a fold-down desk. The owner would also select optional interior features and accessories from a menu of options, which included the latest Japanese electronics of the day, such as a television and a reel-to-reel tape player.

a capsule from tokyo's demolished nakagin capsule tower is landing at SFMOMA
pre-demoliton | image © Noritaka Minami, courtesy PR TIMES

 

 

The Capsules naturally gained incredible popularity at that time, their poignant yet poetic architectural sense of individuality capturing the attention and hearts of many. However, as the surrounding neighborhood of Ginza developed over the years, the Nakagin real estate company invested little in the Capsule Tower’s maintenance, leading to its partial demolition in October 2022. With the remaining 23 Capsules successfully saved from annihilation, Tatsuyuki Maeda, SFMOMA, and other leading figures that contributed to the units’ preservation, are exploring what new meanings and impact these Capsules could hold today when separated from the tower as a whole.

a capsule from tokyo's demolished nakagin capsule tower is landing at SFMOMA
pre-demoliton | image © Noritaka Minami, courtesy PR TIMES

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image courtesy Nakagi Capsule Tower Preservation and Restoration Project

 

unveiling the ‘Capsule Renewal Project’

 

So, what about the post-demolition fate of these remaining capsules? The Nakagin Capsule Tower Building Preservation and Restoration Project launched the ‘Capsule Renewal Project’ earlier this year as an initiative to repurpose he living units’ architectural function. The process included successfully transferring the 23 capsules from the demolished Nakagin Tower and displaying them at museums like SFMOMA, galleries, and commercial facilities, and even using them as lodging in Japan and overseas. All capsules have already been restored under the supervision of Kisho Kurokawa Architects and Associates and have been transported to the concerned parties since March, with the public release of capsules having begun in April 2023.

a capsule from tokyo's demolished nakagin capsule tower is landing at SFMOMA
Capsule A1302 | image © Nakagin Capsule Tower Preservation and Restoration Project

a capsule from tokyo's demolished nakagin capsule tower is landing at SFMOMA
Capsule A1302 | image © Nakagin Capsule Tower Preservation and Restoration Project

 

nakagin-capsule-tower-designboom-full

inside the capsule after restoration | image © Shinjiro Yamada

 

from living unit to moving ‘YODOKO+’ trailer

 

Part of the renewal project includes converting one of the retrieved capsules into a moving trailer for ‘YODOKO+’, a design brand by Yodogawa Steel Works. The company joined forces with the Nakagin Capsule Tower Preservation and Restoration Project, Toshihiko Suzuki of Kogakuin University‘s Faculty of Architecture, and ATELIER OPA Co., Ltd. to bring this unique project to life. ‘From now on, we will use this ‘Moving Nakagin Capsule’ to symbolize our design brand ‘YODOKO+’. As an unveiling, we will exhibit the ‘Moving Nakagin Capsule’ at outdoor exhibitions held in various places from April to June 2023,’ writes Yodogawa Steel Works. 

 

 

 

 

creating exhibition and sales booths at ‘shutl’

 

Partaking in the initiative of repurposing the Nakagin Capsules is the Japanese entertainment company Shochiku. The acquired two capsules will be part of its new space dubbed ‘SHUTL’ in Higashi Ginza, opening in fall 2023. Each capsule will be converted into a kind of booth to plan and hold exhibitions and sales of arts and crafts, as well as performances events.

 

‘The purpose is to promote the fusion of culture and modern culture and the metabolism of Japanese culture itself. This space can be rented from one capsule, and it is possible to develop various unique projects that utilize the space and features of the capsule. The works can be sold on the spot, and it is expected to promote organic encounters and exchanges with the customer base that can only be met in the Higashi Ginza area. We also plan to develop projects and events that embody the concept of this space as independent projects curated by our company and Magazin Co., Ltd., which is entrusted with the operation,’ shares Shochiku.

a capsule from tokyo's demolished nakagin capsule tower is landing at SFMOMA
visualization of ‘SHUTL’ with two capsules turned into booths | image courtesy PR TIMES

 

 

The regeneration project does not end here. The preservation team is actively expanding its horizons to work on exhibiting and reusing the saved capsules by partnering with other like-minded organizations and companies. You can check out the Instagram page of the Nakagin Capsule Tower Preservation and Restoration Project to stay up to date with its journey and news. 

 

nakagin-capsule-tower-designboom-full-2

Nakagin capsule reproduced as a trailer capsule | image © Shinjiro Yamada

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ARCHITECTURE IN JAPAN (1471)

ARCHITECTURE IN TOKYO (308)

METABOLISM ARCHITECTURE MOVEMENT IN JAPAN (14)

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