In the middle of the 20th century, many architects in Japan started experimenting with unique styles of architecture. They tried to create new habitats for the brave new world. In the process, they had to tear the bonds of architectural traditions, which seen as a movement emblematic of Japan’s post-war cultural resurgence. One of the results of this post-war rebuilding is the Nakagin Capsule Tower, located in the Shimbashi district of Tokyo. The world’s very first shoebox apartments!
The building of the tower was spearheaded by Kisho Kurokawa, a leading Japanese architect. He was considered to be the founder of the Metabolist Movement, a post-war Japanese architectural movement. Thus, the building of the Nakagin Capsule Tower followed the axioms of Metabolist philosophy. It was the first capsule type building that was built to last permanently for practical purposes. It was elegant in design and abstract in concept. It consisted of two towers interconnected with each other with eleven and thirteen floors respectively. The building started out with 140 capsules that were prefabricated. However, nowadays only 30 of these remain.
The capsules were very tiny with a measurement of only 250 x 365 x 213 cm, and can function as a small living or office space. The inhabitants were constantly in such cramped circumstances that it seemed unbearable for them. However, if you wanted to have a larger space, the capsules were able to be combined since each capsule could be detached and attached independently. The compartments were then fitted with utilities and interior fittings. They also included a wall of appliances and cabinets on one side.
Who would like to live here you would think? The primary target market was bachelor ‘salarymen’ who just come and go, and don’t need much space to live on because they are barely ever home anyway.
Due to the dehumanizing cramped conditions experienced by the tower dwellers, as well as concerns over asbestos exposure, in 2007, it was decided that the tower is to be demolished. The residents wanted to replace it with a much larger, modern building. Kurosawa proposed to maintain the building’s design and just replace the existing boxes with updated units. However, for the residents, the economic investment and time required while knowing that this would just be a temporary solution, their willingness to invest in the cause decreased.
If you would like to discover a place built as an example of Japanese Metabolism, now it has not been demolished yet you still have the opportunity to do so. Remember though that you cannot sleep in the tower itself, but in another apartment nearby. This is also where you will be checking in and out. You will be shown around the Capsule Tower by the owner after meeting up with him, this is also when the rules will be explained to you. Please note though that the owner doesn’t speak much English.
After the initial tour, you can walk around the Capsule Tower by yourself as much as you’d like. As most amenities such as the hot water are not working in the Capsule Tower itself, it would be best to take a shower in the apartment where you stay.
Nakagin Capsule Tower has already exceeded the point where most buildings would be demolished. Many people do not appreciate its historical cultural value which leaves the tower’s future very uncertain. So do grab the opportunity to take a look around this special place before it is too late!
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