Preservation efforts kick into high gear as the demolition of Tokyo’s Nakagin Capsule Tower looms

Nakagin, Unplugged

Preservation efforts kick into high gear as the demolition of Tokyo’s Nakagin Capsule Tower looms

The Nakagin Capsule Tower pictured in 2017. (Sharat Ganapati/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

The end has been perpetually nigh—for at least over the past decade or so—for Kirsho Kurokawa’s decaying 1972 Metabolist landmark, the Nakagin Capsule Tower. But as word of renewed threats of demolition swirled in May, it became resoundingly clear that iconic 13-story Tokyo tower had reached the last of its nine lives. On July 1, English language Japanese news source SoraNews24 reported that the building is officially scheduled to be razed in March 2022 to make way for new development although some have said the demolition could come even sooner.

As detailed by AN in May, a plan to offload Nakagin Capsule Tower to a conservation-minded buyer reportedly crumbled last year amid the COVID-19 crisis. In turn, the tower’s tenant-comprised management association moved to sell out of fear that the nearly 50-year-old building could “deteriorate further” according to Japanese daily newspaper The Asahi Shimbun. 

“It feels like the coronavirus pandemic destroyed the opportunity for people from overseas to see and experience this building to reconfirm its value,” Tatsuyuki Maeda, a preservationist who owns 15 capsule units at the tower, told The Asahi Shimbum in reference to a scrapped architecture conference that had been planned for Tokyo. During the run of the conference, there were tentative plans to showcase the building and make the case for its saving. Maeda noted that he and other members of the Nakagin Capsule Tower Preservation and Restoration Project had hoped that a flurry of renewed international interest in the tower would have led to its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Although efforts to save the tower in its entirety have been largely, but not entirely, dashed despite tireless ongoing public awareness campaigns, a new effort to remove and preserve at least one single capsule unit, Capsule A606, is gaining traction according to SoraNews24 and subsequently detailed by designboom.

looking up at a capsule tower in tokyo, the Nakagin Capsule Tower
(準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia/Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Per SoraNews24, the so-called Nakagin Capsule Tower Building A606 Project crowdfunding campaign, which is headed by architect Akiko Ishimaru, has raised over $16,000 and interest in backing the effort continues to swell as Japan slowly emerges from the pandemic. Ishimaru is a former Nakagin Capsule Tower dweller who returned to the building in 2017 to convert Capsule A606 into a coworking space with seven others. In transforming the diminutive former pied-à-terre into a functional coworking environment, Ishimaru and her capsule mates restored the space into its original, space-age glory. (A series of videos detailing the restoration can be found here.)

As detailed by SoraNews24, while Ishimaru headed the restoration of Capsule A606, she didn’t actually own the unit. When it became clear earlier this year that the demolition of the tower was all but inevitable, she contacted the owner seeking permission to remove the capsule from the tower. The request was recently cleared by a Japanese court and Ishimaru has set out to raise funds that will enable her to detach the capsule from the tower, at which point it will be relocated and further restored.

Kurokawa, who died in 2007, had initially envisioned that the tower’s 140 prefabricated capsule units be removed and replaced every 25 years but this was never carried out due to the high cost (about $90,000 per capsule per recent estimates) and complexity associated with regenerating the tower.

Ishimaru is ultimately aiming to raise roughly $45,000, a sum that will cover the cost of carefully “unplugging” Capsule A606. Additional funds are needed for other steps of the painstaking relocation and renovation effort, including asbestos removal. Once the unit is successfully extracted from its host tower, Ishimaru and her fellow capsule crusaders plan to donate the approximately 106-square-foot pod to a museum with the hope that it can be rented by architecture enthusiasts for overnight stays.

As of this writing, there are 55 days left in the crowdfunding campaign.