Razing My Metabolism

One of my first stops in Tokyo was the futurist iconic Nagakin Capsule Towers. I am grateful that I got to see it before it is demolished. And  hope it won’t be demolished.

capsule towers s

Model of Nagakin Capsule Towers I made out of capsules, pom poms and pill cases. I wish I had the floor plans. It was great to finally get to see it in 3D and I could probably do a better model now. (So yes, I’m pretty into it).

The problem is that it was built in 1972, and each of the concrete apartment units was supposed to be unplugged and replaced over time. But that hasn’t happened, and so the building has become a dangerous eyesore. They’ve wrapped netting around the units to stop debris and windows from falling on people in the street.

Even though the units have many downsides – asbestos, squalid conditions, water leaks, no hot water, I tried really hard to stay in one. For a while you could rent them like hotel rooms from a few people on air B&B, but the remaining residents of the towers complained about rowdy tourists, and it doesn’t look like they will let people rent rooms any more. It’s strange because from what I’ve read only about 20 of the apartments in the building are still in use. Most units are now empty or used for storage.

But luckily it still stands, the greatest and clearest example of Japanese Metabolist architecture, which is rare considering the way that buildings are devalued and demolished so easily over there, even if they are famous in Japan. And the building stands in an expensive part of town. It is such a stark contrast today between this building and Kisho Kurokawa’s other iconic Tokyo building the National Art Center.

The front door was plastered with no trespassing signs, and so we knew it would be a bad idea to try and sneak in. I had enough trouble with the police later in the trip, as some of you may know.

I did use as much of the ground level facilities as possible. I bet the convenience store could make a killing selling souvenirs to visiting architects, but they don’t.


Nagakin photo from street.

I was happy I got to purchase my first ever steaming hot metal can of coffee from a vending machine there. That was right up there with seeing the performance of the pointing train conductors at every stop, and listening to the different way that opening up a bottle of soda sounds. I never did get to see how the baggage personnel bow as every plane takes off, but I did get to see someone get completely slammed for ignoring the line for a bus. All these things are a blog in themselves.

Just kidding, not as rough as I imagined. I wish we had them here.




Kisho Kurokawa image

Let’s hear it for architect Kisho Kurokawa.



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Wood Construction around Japan

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The tale of the Face House



So happy to find it down this street.

I was part of an eye tracking study earlier this year to see what people focus on in the built environment, and why neuroscience isn’t consulted more in architecture, as it is in advertising and graphic design. And also if architects look at buildings differently than other people. The research isn’t published yet, but obviously people respond to faces. It is part of our animal instinct to scan the environment for them. Simarly people will notice more about what other people are doing in the environment, over looking at buildings. Additional studies have found that people focus and are attracted to edge conditions rather than being at the center of big open spaces due to survival instincts. This all makes sense. But then seeing a talk with all these funny face buildings also seemed a little silly. And Daisuke wasn’t going for it. It reminded me once of a philosophy professor I heard about who focused their studies entirely on episodes of the Simpsons.

So I wasn’t dying to see the Face House. I didn’t travel around the world to see the Face House. I really just put it on the map for kicks, if we had time. We just had a little extra time in Kyoto and decided just to walk around and try and find it. It was a little difficult to find since I had only seen photos of it and never found an address. I knew it was in a crowded residential block of Kyoto, and that tourists don’t really visit this area.


Up the nose view.

Somehow through tons of searching online I found a general address to look into, and then checked Google Earth views to verify it. Luckily it was very easy to see.

face house google earth

I was captivated by the image on Google Earth, seeing how well the Face House stood out from its surroundings on an aerial view.

face geart3

Even zoomed out further, the building is still able to be spotted.


Another thing that caught my interest was the strange axonometric drawing which I first thought was just one person strangely dangling their legs over the edge of the building, but now it looks more like someone is leaning and waving over the building or being pushed over by another person.


The face house has aged gracefully.

The building is known as the Face House or Kao no ie by Kazumasa Yamashita in 1974. Since then, it has aged well and brought joy to the neighborhood. The architect designed the building for a graphic designer who still lives on the second floor after all these years.


It was the only building where I accidentally moved the icon on my map, so I screwed up the location and had no backup to check. So it involved wandering around a non-touristy part of Kyoto. (got to see interesting sites that we wouldn’t have seen normally) like a beautiful temple with an elegant grey heron standing in the fountain. It was probably the most real, least touristy day of our trip, a little stressful since we weren’t sure if we’d even find it.

Here are the things we saw along the way:

And here’s a look at some of my favorite face houses (and some cat houses):


A scary face police station we found in Shibuya.

And some face products:

Now I can definitively say the address is:

740-1 Tatedaionjichō, Nakagyō-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu 604-0012

The original article on the face house is here: Kyoto Face House: Face House humanized a dreary street in downtown Kyoto

Currently, a very nice woman has opened part of the bottom level as a studio that sells cool stuff: creative studio & shop ooo. She took a long time explaining the building to us and gave us information on all the artists there. Her father replicated famous paintings out of slices of toast. The studio’s name comes from the expression on the building’s face.


Toast art of Degas and Van Gogh


Cool postcards, sand art cards, and a bonsai cookie cutter from Studio ooo.

Ann Sussman articles:

Cat Kindergarten

Cat-kindergarten-1-Karlsruhe, Germany

Cat train station

The cat that saved a Japanese train station: Meet Tama, Japan’s cutest stationmaster, and her adorable cat-shaped station home:

Kishi_Station Japan

And finally, an image from a cat cafe we went to in Osaka. It had a nice design, but not the nicest place, so I won’t mention the name:




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Bone Voyage: The remains of the day

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I have always been interested in outdoor spaces, with a special interest in memorials and burial sites as some of the most beautiful places on the planet. The more remote and difficult to get to, the better. Although it took … Continue reading

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Urban Oasis/Environmental Test Site

Urban growth in the bustling city of Venice.

Let me know if you would like to collaborate on a concept I’ve been working on: http://www.openideo.com/open/vibrant-cities/concepting/urban-oasis-environmental-test-site/

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Where have we come? Where are we going?

There has been a tremendous dearth in building projects over the past 4 years — below you can see a link that shows it is the industry that has been dealt the hardest blow from the economic turmoil. I graduated 6 years ago and it has been interesting to see the directions that people have had to follow to find employment with our advanced architectural degrees. Several of my brilliant female friends I went to school with have all moved into education. Two others have gone into film and writing, and another has gone into waitressing. Even though architecture classes in school average 50% men, 50% women, somehow from various quotes online, women make up only 13-20% of the architecture workforce.

I often wonder why our industry is so reluctant to allow women into jobs. Most of the firms I have worked have generally not had any females as registered architects, or even on the track to becoming registered, but they are often relegated to the role of interior designer (a role I often played, in addition to graphic design and writing.)

I know that even the greatest most important architects had very dark times in their lives, Frank Lloyd Wright had his house burned down and family killed. He had to start a school in order to make money in slow times. Louis Sullivan drank a lot. And Antoni Gaudi lived like a pauper in the street in the hopes of seeing Sagrada Familia through. Is that how it will always be?

I myself have found more work and hire paid work doing marketing, teaching, writing and graphic design for architecture firms and schools, but this can be spotty when the firms aren’t getting many new jobs in. Likewise, at this time most of the colleges are overloaded and do not need adjunct professors as they have in the past. I also feel that there are a few jobs that I have not gotten simply because I am overqualified. I am curious to hear how others in the building industry have been surviving this downturn. So what and where next?


(Thanks to Bryant Turnage for showing me this link from The Atlantic)

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Designing With Disability

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It can be said that catastrophic medical illness is good for one thing, helping people come to terms with and redefine the world around them. Some of our most valuable insight has come from architects with disabilities trying to improve … Continue reading

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