The Nakagin Capsule Hotel Tower in Shimbashi was the first of its kind in the world; a wholly modular building comprised of a concrete stack with latch-points for pre-fabricated one-piece rooms to bolt on to, with a built-in life cycle for obsolescence and upgrade.
The work was the real-life embodiment of master architect Howard Roark’s vision, a character from Ayn Rand’s seminal Objectivist book The Fountainhead- a building so perfectly self-contained, ergonomic, and integrated that it would allow the whole of humanity to live in ultimate comfort with maximum efficiency- the true victory of function over form.
In reality however, it didn’t work out that way.
Construction finished on the Nakagin (Silver Center) Capsule Hotel in 1972, after a two-stage building process; one stage for the capsule boxes, pre-fabricated and furbished at a factory, and the second for the central concrete/steel axis, poured on site. The capsules were designed to be slotted in and out as maintenance/upgrades required. Think of them like components on the Mir space station, or even like Tom Cruise’s detachable room/car in the movie Minority Report.
It was a truly ground-breaking design at the time that seemed to speak to a far cleaner, more renewable future, with all of us living in such cheap production-line housing, with all our needs streamed easily through the building’s central core. However- since the 13 floors of capsules were first quadruple-bolted to the core, not one of them has ever been de-attached. Rather, they have been left to hang, and slowly falter as their systems overload and fail. They were never designed to last for extended periods.
I heard from one of my students in a nearby building that the place will soon be demolished. I read on the website ‘arcspace‘ that various groups had tried to get the building world heritage status to keep it alive- but I imagine those pleas will fail. It’s prime real-estate, and will doubtless get gobbled up by some CBD-seeking conglomerate.
A close-up of some of the boxes. While once this might have been intended as a hotel, it’s now wholly residential, as evidenced by the ‘No Trespassers’ sign kindly posted in English on the front doors.
The view straight up the front- it’s such a weirdly beautiful building I couldn’t stop taking photos from all angles.
The whole building, including the convenience store and lobby at the bottom.
From a walkway, across the highway, in the rain.
A model room out the front, designed to show-case the wonders of Capsule technology- unfortunately now it is closed, though the kind folks over at arcspace have lent me some of their interior shots- from better days:
Interior- plush, minimalist, futuristic.
All the latest mod-cons built right in. It looks a bit like a Battlestar Galactica set.
I went to visit the place on a rainy weekday afternoon, holding an umbrella over the camera and me the whole time. I thought briefly about attempting to enter, but the security guard inside at his desk, and a very bland lobby visible through the glass doors, plus the ‘No Trespassers’ sign just put me off. Ah well, perhaps I can return when/if it becomes a haikyo.
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