Think of Tokyo, and one of the first things that comes to mind is the capsule hotel. While many curious tourist may be willing to forsake a night of sleep – and privacy – to experience this uniquely Tokyo concept with a few hundred of their closest salarymen friends, usually they find that one night is enough.
Nagakin Capsule Tower in Tokyo’s shiny Ginza district is the first capsule architecture built for actual (and permanent) use. The building is a fine example of metabolist architecture, a style that originated with a group of Japanese architects and urban designers in the late 1950s. The best known example of the metabolist style is Moshi Safde’s unbelievable Habitat 67, built for Expo ’67 in Montreal. The metabolist movement proposed that buildings of the future would be flexible, sustainable, often large-scale and always able to grow organically. Remember, this was shortly after the end of World War II and the subsequent baby boom around the world meant that housing was an immediate priority, so much of the metabolist movement is concerned with residential architecture.
Designed by Kisho Kurakawa, the tower is 13 stories high and each capsule measures 2.3m x 3.8m x 2.1m. The capsules are designed to be replaceable, and are connected to the two inner cores by only four bolts. Inside, everything is prefabricated and built-in, including the telephone, clock-radio and even a calculator, a sign that the capsules were designed for businessmen.
In Tokyo, a city that is constantly in flux, it is not surprising to hear that that the Capsule Tower faces imminent destruction, to make way for more ‘user friendly’ housing. But a shortlist on the World Heritage List may just save this iconic structure from the bulldozer.