Vancouver, if Tokyo doesn’t want the Nakagin Capsule Tower, let’s ship it over here.

little white space

Nagakin Capsule Tower

It shouldn’t be that difficult; it comes apart. The owner residents of Tokyo’s famous Nakagin Capsule Tower have voted to demolish it and rebuild a “modern” tower on the same location, which is now a valuable property adjacent to the Ginza district. See the recent article by architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff in the NYT and an interesting post on pingmag. The building was designed by Japanese architect Kurokawa Kishō in 1972, in the style known as Japanese Metabolism. Typical of the buildings in that movement, each capsule is suspended from the structure independently (rather like this), so even though the capsules’ interiors are now outdated (all-in-one plastic consoles including built-in reel-to-reel audio systems!), each capsule can be removed, gutted, de-asbestosized, refurbished, and lifted back into place, and that is exactly the solution the architect recently proposed before his death. The real issue is land value – the apartment owners want a more “efficient” use of the lot, which means they want to maximize the “value” of each apartment. They say the capsules are cramped, but they’re no different than most Tokyo apartments. Every Japanese architectural association has argued for preserving the building, as have international architectural critics and associations, but the futuristic building’s future doesn’t look good. I love this building; I had a postcard of it on my desk all through school. So I’m asking you, Vancouver, you who contains so little interesting architecture: since these capsules are individually removable, why not have the building stacked like jenga pieces on a freighter and floated over here? Since you apparently want to install a new 14-storey homeless housing 3 blocks from me – despite the fact that this neighbourhood already contains almost the densest social housing for the homeless anywhere in the world, and studies overwhelmingly show that this level of density is a really bad idea – here is my suggestion: I won’t complain about your badly-thought-out scheme IF you buy this 14-storey building from Tokyo. It’s the same height as the one you’re planning anyway – so convenient. And the rooms are actually bigger than the tiny ones you usually provide. Before I get any more grief on this topic, a final note: I am the an advocate for housing for the homeless, one of Vancouver’s most pressing needs, but am against the city’s imagination-less, ill-designed social architecture, its decision to locate all of these things in a single 8-square-block area, as well as building an ugly new high-rise in what is otherwise a low-rise neighbourhood. Solutions are necessary, but they need to make sense both socially and architecturally – ask every other city that has already made these mistakes. As for views on micro-apartments in Vancouver, see here. More on Treehugger. Photo of the architect’s own capsule on the top floor is here.

Nagakin Capsule Tower - interior

Nagakin Capsule Tower

Nagakin Capsule Tower - interior

I volunteer to help refurbish it. For a discussion of some of the arguments against the Nakagin Tower, see an excellent article at Reloading Images. Below is from the building’s Wikipedia entry, updated only a few days ago to include Ouroussoff’s article:

The original target demographic were bachelor salarymen. The compact apartments included a wall of appliances and cabinets built in to 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, is set into an opposite corner. A large circular window over a bed dominates the far end of the room.
Construction occurred on site and off site. On-site work included the two towers and their energy-supply systems and equipment, while the capsule parts were fabricated and the capsules were assembled at a factory…

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 is attached independently and cantilevered from the shaft, so that any capsule may be removed easily without affecting the others. The capsules are all-welded lightweight steel-truss boxes clad in galvanized, rib-reinforced steel panels. On April 15, 2007, the building’s residents, 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.

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, a plan supported by the major architectural associations of Japan, including the Japan Institute of Architects; the residents countered with concerns over the building’s earthquake resistance and its inefficient use of valuable property adjacent to the high-value Ginza.

A developer for the replacement has yet to be found, partly because of the Late-2000s recession. Opposing its 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.”

黒川紀章・中銀カプセルタワービル Nakagin Capsule Tower, tokyo, Kisho Kurokawa

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