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Nakagin Capsule Tower could be headed for demolition

TOKYO (TR) – For five decades, the stacked cubes comprising the Nakagin Capsule Tower in Ginza have captivated fans of the Metabolist architectural movement.

In recent years, however, there has been continued speculation about the demise of the tower — and its day of reckoning could finally be here.

According to site J-Cast News (May 2), the management association for the tower has decided to sell it. The move clouds the future of the structure, which could be headed for demolition.

Designed by architect Kisho Kurokawa, the two-tower structure consists of 140 stacked concrete cubes, or “capsules,” which were intended to be residential modules.

However, the Nakagin Capsule Tower’s concrete has corroded and its capsules have fallen into disrepair since its completion in 1972. It also does not meet current seismic standards.

Nakagin Capsule Tower is located in Chuo Ward (The Tokyo Reporter)

“Aging has been a major issue”

At the time of completion, the lifespan of each capsule, measuring 10 square meters, was 25 years. However, not one has ever been replaced. (It is estimated that the current cost to replace one stands at around 10 million yen.)

A preservation push has been ongoing. But the management association for the building, which consists of capsule owners, voted to sell the building to the landowner earlier this year.

“Aging has been a major issue in recent years,” says Tatsuyuki Maeda, who owns at least one of the capsules. “I was looking for a developer who would leave the building standing while repairing it.”

Overseas companies showed more interest than those in Japan, according to Maeda. But the novel coronavirus pandemic caused any progress to halt.

“We think that it is difficult for the management association to take measures against aging, such as large-scale repairs, so we will transfer the building from the association to the original landowner, which will be the purchaser.”

The Nakagin Capsule Tower consists of 140 concrete cubes (The Tokyo Reporter)

“Worlds shaped by different sets of values”

Architects in the postwar Metabolist movement sought to bring concrete, steel and glass to life through inspirations taken from biology.

The circular windows and cubes of the Nakagin Capsule Tower, completed in 1972, make it look like cells from an organism. The design has received acclaim from around the world.

Nicolai Ouroussoff, architecture critic for The New York Times, wrote in 2009, “The Capsule Tower is not only 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.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun (May 4) reported, without citing any sources, that a real estate company plans to buy the building and demolish it. It also says that some capsule owners have already started vacating the structure.

“There are certainly fans of architecture, both domestically and internationally, who want to keep it,” Maeda says to J-Cast. “But we can’t say anything for sure about the [future] of the building.”