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Nakagin Capsule Tower
The Nakagin Capsule Tower. Photo: Jordy Meow. Pubished by Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

When discussing Kikutake’s 1958 design of Marine City, Noboin Kawazoe used the Japanese term “shinchintaisha”, which is called “metabolism” in English. Kawazoe used the term to describe the exchange of material and energy between the organism and the outside world, as well as a regular replacement of old with new. The idea was transferred to urban planning and architecture and eventually led to the designation of a group of architects and urban planners as metabolists. In urban space, exchange and permanent change were to be made possible through flexible, expandable large-scale structures, for example by allowing building modules (comparable to the leaves of a tree) to be exchanged, as well as through a transport infrastructure that functioned like lifelines. According to the ideas of the metabolists, future mass societies should live and work in flexible “urban organisms”. This included the “Nakagin Capsule Tower”.

The “Nakagin Capsule Tower” by Kisho Kurokawa, built in Tokyo in 1972, fulfilled one of the central demands of Metabolism: standardised, residential units were to be flexibly interconnected and serve as a construction principle for entire cities. The capsule tower that was realised consists of 140 residential and office units in container size, which were anchored in two core towers made of steel with eleven and 13 storeys respectively. Kurokawa had imagined that such core towers would be built in many places in the country so that the residents could have moved from town to town with their furnished capsules. Nothing came of the vision. The nine-square-metre units with their characteristic circular windows measuring 1.30 metres in diameter in the space-age style of the seventies remained where they were as a distinctive piece of Tokyo. Nevertheless, as a built utopia, the Capsule Tower became one of Japan’s most important post-war buildings.

Contaminated by asbestos, the steel core had become dilapidated due to moisture, and years ago a renovation seemed uneconomical. As early as 2007, a required majority of more than 80% of the owners’ association had voted for demolition. This was only averted because the financial crisis prevented new plans for the property. Now it seems that the time has finally come. Demolition workers have begun to erect scaffolding. By December at the latest, the eye-catcher of Ginza should be gone. The demolition is not only a striking example of the fact that masterpieces of domestic architecture are often not sufficiently appreciated in Japan. At a time when there is constant talk of Tiny Houses and modular housing, the disappearance of the Cape Tower seems paradoxical.

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