The Nakagin Capsule Tower Building in Tokyo is an unmissable architectural oddity and gem in the heart of the Japanese megalopolis. Or we may soon say it was. The building is being slowly demolished, though the process is one of gradual disassembly instead of an explosive demolition. (Watch Dezeen’s video above.)The building’s components will be repurposed elsewhere.
Nakagin was built between 1970-72 and is an example of the Metabolism architectural movement. The structure sits in the Shimbashi neighborhood, near Ginza, where it had become an iconic landmark. Kisho Kurokawa was its architect and a visionary proponent of Metabolism.
The mixed use commercial-residential tower may have once been perceived as “futuristic,” but now perhaps “retro-futuristic” is more apt. While the building’s striking aesthetics and design are groundbreaking, distinct, and compelling, it hasn’t aged well. The building has had its share of problems over the decades (asbestos was used in the construction materials), but its architectural and cultural importance is undeniable. Attempts to save it by having the tower legally granted official status as an historical landmark have failed.
In our many years of visits and time spent in Tokyo, the Nakagin Capsule Tower had been a building that fascinated us and fed our imagination. We’d serendipitously see the tower in passing, usually from the windows of a taxi as we sped along the elevated expressway that runs by it, and we’d wonder what it was like inside, what it was like to actually live and work inside such a building.
Photos of the building’s interiors painted the picture of cramped quarters with modular, pre-fab built-in amenities, and tight city views framed by circular windows. Outside, the tower evoked the kind of structure that wouldn’t seem out of place in films like Blade Runner, Akira, the Fifth Element or in one of William Gibson’s early cyberpunk novels. Nakagin has actually been immortalized in popular culture, mainly as a setting in several films and TV series, notably in the movie Wolverine.
From now, with Nakagin gone, we’ll still have have our memories and imagination. But we live in an age of over-documentation. Thankfully, there’s a massive trove of video, images, and even animated 3D-model augmented-reality renderings of this Tokyo building we can always access to see what once was and is no more.