Nakagin Capsule Tower
Photo: Nakagin Capsule Tower Building Preservation and Regeneration Project

The iconic Nakagin Capsule Tower has its issues – still we're sad to see it demolished

The chaotic but unique structure is finally being taken down on April 12, with some capsules preserved

Emma Steen
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Emma Steen
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As one of the founders of Metabolism, architect Kisho Kurokawa had a profound vision for his 1970s Nakagin Capsule Tower. At the time it went up in 1972, the tower was a radical vision of how people would live and how cities would ideally be designed in the future. Consisting of 144 individual capsules designed to be replaced every 25 years, the building was meant to grow and evolve along with the city like a living organism.

However, things haven’t gone exactly to plan. The tower is now slated for demolition on April 12, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun, after a years-long battle to keep the structure in Ginza.  

Nakagin Capsule Tower
Photo: Nakagin Capsule Tower Building Preservation and Regeneration Project

We’re in two minds about this. On one hand, it’s always sad to say goodbye to a unique building that’s been a part of the city for decades. On the other hand, the tower is a hazardous structure that should have been restored or probably dismantled ages ago. 

Nakagin Capsule Tower
Photo: Nakagin Capsule Tower Building Preservation and Regeneration Project

Contrary to Kurokawa’s initial plans, the capsules weren’t given the overhaul they were due in 1997. In fact, the building has been poorly maintained in the five decades since its construction, with no hot water since the pipes burst in 2010 and several capsules abandoned with mould and mildew in the walls. If that wasn’t bad enough, there’s the unresolved issue of asbestos, which was commonly used as an insulator for construction in the 1970s, but has since been linked to causes of cancer – so can you blame ‘em for wanting to do away with it? 

Nakagin Capsule Tower
Photo: Nakagin Capsule Tower Building Preservation and Regeneration Project

For all of its uninhabitable traits, the building still has a small but resolute group of backers who are determined not to see its legacy fade away. While its got serious structural issues, the Nakagin Capsule Tower is a Tokyo icon; the building has appeared in Godzilla movies and Hollywood blockbusters. It's also an authentic vision of the future as seen from the 70s. While they lack basic kitchen utilities (cooking burners weren't part of the original design), the capsules do have a built-in TV, phone and reel-to-reel tape deck – all the latest mod cons of the era.

Nakagin Capsule Tower
Photo: Nakagin Capsule Tower Building Preservation and Regeneration Project

There were many efforts to save the building and keep it in its original location, including a bold campaign led by the Nakagin Capsule Tower Preservation and Restoration Project to replace each of the capsules. The issue with that was that the cost for replacing even a single capsule, as estimated by project founder Tatsuyuki Maeda, would add up to tens of millions of yen.

When the logistics behind keeping the building whole began to look unfeasible, the organisation decided instead to raise funds for the renovation of a handful of capsules to preserve them as individual units. The project successfully gathered over ¥7 million yen and even released a book with over 400 photographs of the tower and its apartments to commemorate its 50th anniversary. 

Nakagin Capsule Tower
Photo: Nakagin Capsule Tower Building Preservation and Regeneration Project

With the building's demolition schedule to begin in a few weeks, all of the remaining tenants have now cleared out of its micro apartments and offices. Meanwhile, the Nakagin Capsule Tower Building Preservation and Regeneration Project is arranging for a number of its units to be distributed to museums around the world and the rest of Japan. So far, the project has received received 80 inquiries to acquire the capsules, so this architectural wonder can live on as a remnant of ‘70s architecture – just not for living in. 

The tower isn't the only attraction we have to say goodbye to in 2022. See our list of Tokyo landmarks closing this year.  

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