Now that Europe seems to open itself to the joys of capsule dwelling, Japan’s love affair with the concept may come to an end. Residents in Nakagin Capsule Tower are so sick of living and working in their 4m x 2.5m pods that they want it to be torn down.
Kisho Kurokawa created in 1972 apartments with one circular window, a built-in bed and bathroom unit and even a built-in calculator. The building inspired hundreds of capsule hotels in Japanese city centres. But now drainage and water pipes are damaged, plans to unclip the capsules and refurbish them have never come to fruition and residents are afraid that asbestos used in construction poses a health risk.
“I would like to maintain the building to my design theory, and that means replacing the capsules. Every year I have proposed maintenance. In 33 years they didn’t do this,” says Kurokawa.
Under the architect’s theory of allowing the building its own “metabolism”, the units for offices, workshops and homes were designed to be detachable and replaceable. The capsules were built in a factory and came with pre-assembled interiors. They were then hoisted into place by crane and hung off a concrete core from just four bolts. They have never been detached.
Heritage protection group Docomomo has pleaded unsuccessfully for the UN to protect the structure. The Japanese government has also declined to offer protection.