Nakagin capsule tower in the Ginza district of Tokyo is an exceptional building for many reasons, but in my opinion it is the finest example of a theoretical architecture that was ever actually built.
The Japanese Metabolist movement was preoccupied with an architecture inspired by nature’s organic patterns of growth, cycle, and rebirth within an ecological system. It shared many ideas with Archigram about future cities, and how building’s might ‘plug into’ the infrastructure of the urban fabric or be adaptable to unforeseeable future scenarios. The tower was designed by Kisho Kurokawa in such a way that each individual pre-fabricated accommodation capsule could be taken out of the central tower core and replaced or altered without effecting the capsules surrounding it. This in itself makes each apartment an incredibly well engineered cantilever with a connection to the tower that can be attached and reattached numerous times. Kurokawa states that each pod was designed to last 25 years, and that it can come as no surprise to the building’s owners that after 40 years the building has fallen into disrepair. If each capsule was replaced in accordance with it’s proposed timeframe, the architect suggests that building could be expected to last up to 200 years; and like any highly advanced technology, it requires regular maintenance in order to maintain peak operational condition.
I was very fortunate to be able to visit the Nakagin Capsule Tower during a trip to Tokyo this summer and was sad to see it in its current state; with each pod slowly succumbing to the accumulated compromises of 15 extra years beyond it’s intended life span, without the adaptation and renewal it was designed to accommodate. The ownership of the tower has since passed to an overseas Hedge Fund who intend to demolish the block, with the support of the capsule’s owners, many of whom have inherited a stake in the dilapidated design, rather than buying into the original vision of future living. Although there a numerous architectural patrons and academics who are lobbying for the building’s preservation, it is not yet old enough to be considered eligible for historic statutory protection.
I wouldn’t dare to guess how few buildings are left that demonstrate such a well-realised theoretical architectural agenda, and the thought of losing another one is a massive shame; particularly given the potential to utilise the tower’s unique ‘disassemble & reassemble’ design concept as the means to save it (This is an interesting short video of Kurokawa discussing the tower’s uncertain future, and ways that it might yet possibly live on: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9roy5mbz5fk). Although at the moment it seems likely that the tower will be demolished, the ideas that birthed this exceptional building cannot be destroyed, and the fact that it was built at all is a testament to the ambitions of a great architect working in a bold era of experimentation. Perhaps the legacy of the design will be even more celebrated when all that remains is the purity of the idea, and not merely the decaying reminder of the idea’s continued dereliction.
Images: Author’s own