Completed in 1972 in Tokyo’s center, the Nakagin Capsule Tower was designed by the Japanese Architect Kisho Kurokawa. The mixed-use residential and office tower is a rare example of Japanese Metabolism, an architectural movement emblematic of Japan’s postwar cultural resurgence. It was the world’s first example of capsule architecture built for permanent and practical use. The building is still in use today but has fallen into disrepair.
Nakagin Capsule Tower Technical Information
- Architects: Kisho Kurokawa
- Location: Ginza, Tokyo, Japan
- Typology: Residential / Apartments
- Materials: Steel and Reinforced Concrete
- Stories: 13 Floors (140 Units)
- Total Floor Area: 3,091.23 m2
- Project Year: 1970 – 1972
- Photographs: © Noritaka Minami
Architecture (is) a theatre stage setting where the leading actors are the people, and to dramatically direct the dialogue between these people and space is the technique of designing.
– Kisho Kurokawa
Nakagin Capsule Tower Photographs
Design and Construction
The building comprises two interconnected concrete towers that are respectively eleven and thirteen floors housing 140 self-contained prefabricated capsules. The 140 capsules are hung off the concrete towers that contain the vertical communications. The units are identical, prefabricated steel cells filled with a bath unit, conditioning system, and color television. Built-in Osaka, they were transported to Tokyo by truck. The assembly time for each capsule took three hours. Within one month, the capsules were all sold.
Each capsule measures 2.5 m (8.2 ft) by 4.0 m (13.1 ft) with a 1.3-meter diameter window at the end. They function as a small living space or an office, and they can be connected to create larger areas. Each capsule is connected to one of the two main shafts only by four high-tension bolts and is designed to be replaceable. Although the units were designed with mass production in mind, none of the units have been replaced since the original construction.
The capsules were fitted with utilities before being shipped to the building site, where they were assembled. Each capsule was attached independently and cantilevered from the shaft so that any capsule could be removed easily without affecting the others. The capsules are all-welded lightweight steel-truss boxes clad in galvanized, rib-reinforced steel panels, which were coated with rust-preventative paint and finished with a coat of Kenitex glossy spray after processing.
The cores are made in reinforced concrete. From the basement to the second floor, ordinary concrete was used; above those levels, lightweight concrete was used. Shuttering consists of large panels, the height of a single story of the tower. Because of the pattern in which two days of steel-frame work were followed by two days of precast-concrete work, the staircase was completely operational by the time the framework was finished. On-site construction of the elevators was shortened by incorporating the 3-D frames, the rails, and anchor indicator boxes in the precast concrete elements and by employing prefabricated cages.
Preservation Vs. Demolition
The capsules can be individually removed or replaced. In 2006, when demolition was being considered, it was estimated that renovation would require around 6.2 million yen per capsule.
80% of the capsule owners must approve demolition, which was first achieved on April 15, 2007. A majority of capsule owners, citing squalid, cramped conditions and asbestos concerns, voted to demolish the building and replace it with a much larger, more modern tower.
In the interest of preserving his design, Kurokawa proposed taking advantage of the flexible design by “unplugging” the existing boxes and replacing them with updated units. The plan was supported by the major architectural associations of Japan, including the Japan Institute of Architects. Still, the residents countered with concerns over the building’s earthquake resistance and its inefficient use of valuable property adjacent to Ginza’s high-value. Kurokawa died in 2007, and a developer for renovation has yet to be found, partly because of the late-2000s recession.
The hot water to the building was shut off in 2010. In 2014 Masato Abe, a capsule owner, former resident, and founder of the “Save Nakagin Tower” project, stated that the project was attempting to gain donations from around the world to purchase all of the capsules and preserve the building.
Capsule Tower by Kisho Kurokawa Floor Plan and Section
Nakagin Capsule Tower by Kisho Kurokawa Gallery
About Kisho Kurokawa
Kisho Kurokawa was a leading Japanese Architect whose work was influenced by both the east and west cultures. Philosopher, teacher, print-maker, speed-boat enthusiast, and translator of architectural books, notably those of Jane Jacobs and Charles Jencks, Kurokawa was an intellectual who got to build critical projects in Japan. In 1962 he established Kisho Kurokawa Architect & Associates. Upon his decease in 2007, his son Mikio decided to carry on his will and succeed in his position representing the firm.