The End of a Metabolist Icon

John Hill
12. May 2021
 Nakagin Capsule Tower in 2013. (Photo: Forgemind ArchiMedia/Flickr)

The Nakagin Capsule Tower, designed by Kisho Kurokawa and built in 1972, is making headlines once again, with reports of the owners selling their units and moving out. This news means the likely demolition of one of the only built manifestations of Metabolism.

The Nakagin Capsule Tower consists of 140 prefabricated capsules plugged into two vertical cores, an innovative approach that allowed construction to take just thirty days and heralded, in Kurosawa's words at the time, "the era of moving architecture." The capsules were designed to last around 25 years, being detached and replaced as needed and into a variety of configurations. Nearly fifty years later, none of them has been removed or repaired.

According to Japan Property Central, whose late-April article says "the capsule owners have voted in favor to sell off the building and land leasehold rights," decades of disrepair have resulted in a estimated cost of 8.8 million JPY (800,000 USD) to fix each capsule. With so many capsules making it prohibitively expensive to save the whole building, capsule by capsule, no wonder stories of Nagakin "heading for demolition" are in abundance.

 Nakagin Capsule Tower in 2018. (Photo: Kakidai/Wickimedia Commons)

The path to the current headlines started three years ago. On June 29, 2018, "the land underneath the Nakagin Capsule Tower building was sold to CTB GK," another JPC article indicates. The limited liability company that made the purchase from Nakagin Group, the developer of the building, "promptly informed the chairperson of the apartment owners association of their intent to redevelop the site." 

Preservationists promptly weighed in, including Docomomo International, which described the building at the time as as "a unique example of Japanese Metabolism, showcasing how its architecture responded to the surrounding circumstances and how flexibility could be the answer to a growing hyper dense and dynamic society."

Although many of the capsule owners have supported preservation of the iconic tower, with some glimmers of hope coming in 2019, the leasehold in place since 1972 means any capsule sales would have to be approved by the landowner. The new landowner, CTB GK, has said no new sales would happen, effectively pushing owners into selling off their units together (since the building is not seismically fit, only 80% of owners needed to agree to sell, rather than the typical 100%). That should happen soon, with residents moving out and a new developer found to determine the final fate of Nakagin Capsule Tower.

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