Nakagin Capsule Tower

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Nakagin Capsule Tower Building
Nakagin Capsule Tower
General information
TypeResidential, office
Architectural style Metabolism
Location8 Chome-16-10 Ginza, Chūō-ku, Tōkyō-to 104-0061, Japan
Coordinates 35°39′56.20″N139°45′48.20″E / 35.6656111°N 139.7633889°E / 35.6656111; 139.7633889 Coordinates: 35°39′56.20″N139°45′48.20″E / 35.6656111°N 139.7633889°E / 35.6656111; 139.7633889
Construction started1970
Technical details
Floor count13
Floor area3,091.23 m2 (33,273.7 sq ft)
Design and construction
Architect Kisho Kurokawa

The Nakagin Capsule Tower Building (中銀カプセルタワービル, Nakagin Kapuseru Tawā Biru), known outside Japan as the Nakagin Capsule Tower, is a mixed-use residential and office tower designed by architect Kisho Kurokawa and located in Shimbashi, Tokyo, Japan.


Completed in 2 years from 1970-1972, [1] the building is a rare remaining example of Japanese Metabolism (alongside the older Kyoto International Conference Center), 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 still exists but has fallen into disrepair. [2]

As of October 2012, around thirty of the 140 capsules remained in use as apartments, while others were used for storage or office space, or simply abandoned and allowed to deteriorate. As recently as August 2017 capsules could still be rented (relatively inexpensively, considering the Ginza locale), though the waiting list remains long.

Design and construction

Replica of a sample room, Nakagin Capsule Tower type Nakagin kapsula erreplika Donostia 2019 Mugak 01.jpg
Replica of a sample room, Nakagin Capsule Tower type

The building is composed of two interconnected concrete towers, respectively eleven and thirteen floors, which house 140 self-contained prefabricated capsules. Each capsule measures 2.5 m (8.2 ft) by 4.0 m (13.1 ft) with a 1.3 metre diameter window at one end and functions as a small living or office space. Capsules can be connected and combined to create larger spaces. 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 capsules were designed with mass production in mind, none of the units have been replaced since the original construction. [3]

The capsules were fitted with utilities and interior fittings before being shipped to the building site, where they were attached to the concrete towers. 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 rigid-frame, made of a steel frame and 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 storey of the tower. In order to make early use of the staircase, precast concrete was used in the floor plates and the elevator shafts. 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.

The original target demographic were bachelor Tōkyō salarymen. [2] The compact pieds-à-terre included a wall of appliances and cabinets built into one side, including a kitchen stove, a refrigerator, a television set, and a reel-to-reel tape deck. A bathroom unit, about the size of an aircraft lavatory, was set into an opposite corner. A large circular window over the bed dominated the far end of the room. [2] Optional extras such as a stereo were also originally available. [3]

Construction occurred both on- and off-site. On-site work included the two towers with their energy-supply systems and equipment, while the capsule parts were fabricated and assembled at a factory. Nobuo Abe was a senior manager, managing one of the design divisions on the construction of the Nakagin Capsule Tower.

Demolition and update proposals

31-second video of the Nakagin Capsule Tower

The capsules can be individually removed or replaced, but at a cost: when demolition was being considered in 2006, it was estimated that renovation would require around 6.2 million yen per capsule.

80% of the capsule owners must approve demolition, [4] which was first achieved on April 15, 2007. A majority of capsule owners, citing squalid, cramped conditions as well as concerns over asbestos, voted to demolish the building and replace it with a much larger, more modern tower. [2] [5] 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; but the residents countered with concerns over the building's earthquake resistance and its inefficient use of valuable property adjacent to the high-value Ginza. [5] Kurokawa died in 2007, and a developer for renovation has yet to be found, partly because of the late-2000s recession. [2]

Opposing slated demolition, Nicolai Ouroussoff, architecture critic for The New York Times , described Nakagin Capsule Tower as "gorgeous architecture; like all great buildings, it is the crystallization of a far-reaching cultural ideal. Its existence also stands as a powerful reminder of paths not taken, of the possibility of worlds shaped by different sets of values." [2]

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. [4]

In May 2021, a number of outlets reported that the management company of the building had voted to sell the complex to the original landowner, reigniting speculation over potential demolition and redevelopment. [6]

See also

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  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Nicolai Ouroussoff, Architecture: Future Vision Banished to the Past, The New York Times, July 7, 2009, Accessed July 7, 2009.
  3. 1 2 Watanabe (2001), p. 148-149
  4. 1 2 Forster, Katie Tokyo’s tiny capsules of architectural flair October 3, 2014 Japan Times Wayback Machine copy as of December 30, 2016
  5. 1 2 Yuki Solomon, Kurokawa’s Capsule Tower To Be Razed, Architectural Record, April 30, 2007, Google cache version retrieved December 5, 2018.
  6. "Tokyo's Nakagin Capsule Tower faces renewed threats of demolition". 12 May 2021.
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