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.




About Meghan Dufresne

Meghan R. Dufresne, LEED AP is an architectural designer and writer based in Boston. Interests include sustainability, gardens, art, sound, touch, experience, and merging buildings with the surrounding landscape.
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