Thinking outside the Box

The demolition of the Nakagin Capsule Tower

Why a dream project for capsule living is being dismantled

 

Tokyo Architecture

 

And so it sadly came to pass, the threat of demolition looming large over this iconic residential building for so many years became a reality. The breaking up of the Nakagin has begun, one capsule pod at a time. By the summer of 2022, the towers will be barely recognisable. What will remain for posterity will be pod A606 formally located on the 6th floor of Tower A, care of activist Akiko Ishimaru and the team behind the Nakagin Capsule Tower A606 Project.

The residents knew the writing was on the wall when they learnt, in March 2021, as the pandemic raged, that the Nakagin Capsule Tower Building Management Association had quietly voted in favour of selling the much-loved building. It sent shock waves through the community of tenants and owners it didn’t take to much of a stretch to see that this was merely a stepping stone to the complete dismantling of the pods.

 

Ginza architecture icon

 

The architect, Kisho Kurokawa, had a vision of how the building, an important example of the Metabolism Movement, would function. The idea was that each capsule (think square pod), home for a ‘salaryman’, would be at best changed or at the very least subject to major maintenance every 20-25 years. The design seemed so flexible and adaptable, a matter of swapping a capsule in and out as required – easy to build in a factory in Shiga Prefecture. However, therein lies the seeds of the building’s demise. It became quickly clear that the system didn’t function properly combined with a series of fundamental structural problems.

 

Nagakin Capsule Tower top

‘In order to remove a single capsule, every capsule above it would also have to be removed which was actually a pretty tough thing to ask other owners to leave their home for a while. Basically, all the capsules would have been replaced in one go in case of replacement. However, each capsule was sold to individual owners, meaning that agreement for the replacement would have to be obtained from 140 owners. 100% agreement would be necessary since refurbishment would include not just their capsule but the communal space as well’.

Yuka of Showcase Tokyo

 

Nagakin between the capsules

 

Its as if everything had been thought of but the human factor had been underestimated. Capsule owners paid monthly maintenance fees and a sinking fund for replacement capsules which mathematically didn’t add up – the fund was already short of £100k+ by 2007.   Boxed in, so to speak the pod owners could not reach an agreement about what to do next.

 

 

Everything rolled on and the problems compounded as the building deteriorated. The metaphor, ‘kicking a can down the road’ comes to mind. That was until the emergency vote in 2021 when the situation slipped out of the hands of the tenants. The choices became binary – sell the building or demolish it.  The mission of the Nakagin Capsule Tower Preservation and Restoration Project remained simply,  ‘to stop the imminent destruction of the Nakagin Capsule Tower’. Clearly, that plan did not work and their role now is to try and preserve some elements.

Architect and former resident Akiko Ishimaru has created the Nakagin Capsule Tower A606 Project. The aim is to preserve, intact, pod A606, currently located on the 6th floor of Tower A and to tour with it – towing it from venue to venue by car, Akiko notes that this was an idea explored by Kisho Kurokawa in his book Homo Movens.

‘It is expected that the capsule will need repair after it is removed from the Tower. The asbestos contained in the paint used to coat the capsule’s steel walls is a real problem. This carcinogenic material must be removed before the capsule is transferred, a process which is likely to cause considerable damage.’

Akiko Ishimaru

Until June 2022 the pod remains semi accessible and serves as HQ for the A606 Project.

 

 

 

All images unless noted by Howard Morris

 

metabolistic tower Ginza Tokyo

Nakagin Capsule Tower Preservation and Restoration Project

 

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