“It’s cold in winter,” says Tatsuyuki Maeda. The ceiling, the floor and three of the four outer walls of the one-room apartments are then directly exposed to the cold air. “It’s extremely hot in the summer because you can’t open the window.” The living conditions that Maeda describes are anything but comfortable. And yet the heart of the 54-year-old Japanese is attached to the building in which he owned 15 apartments. In December, Maeda, like the other remaining owners, sold his apartments to the company that owns the land. This sealed the fate of the Nakagin Capsule Tower on the outskirts of Tokyo’s luxury Ginza shopping district. The sale of the property and demolition are foreseeable.
For more than a decade Maeda fought with like-minded people to save the building. Built in 1972, the Nakagin Capsule Tower is the symbol of Metabolism, a Japanese architectural movement that made waves in the West in the 1960s and 1970s. Built by the internationally renowned architect Kisho Kurokawa, the tower is also a sign of hope for the future in a Japan that rose to number two in the world with rapid economic growth in the post-war decades and was only overtaken by China much later.
Monument protection has few chances
With its 140 living pods docked to two elevator and supply towers, the building embodies the theories of the Metabolists like no other. After that, the architecture should adapt and develop as in the tissue of an organism to the constant changes of the city and society. Kurokawa’s plan: to regularly replace and modernize the habitation pods, like cells in the body. Hence the name metabolism or metabolism.
But Ginza, in the heart of Tokyo, is where the most expensive real estate in Japan can be found. There isn’t much room for buildings whose value lies primarily in their importance in architectural history. At 50, the building is still far too young to be considered worthy of protection in Japan, says Tatsuyuki Maeda. Especially since in Japan, which is used to destruction from earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis, houses are not built to last and are being replaced by new ones faster than in the West. Monument protection, as it is known in Germany, has little chance.
A few years ago, Maeda and other supporters of the tower collected nearly 10,000 signatures for the building’s preservation and presented them to Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike. But the city didn’t think it was appropriate to put money into a private project, says Maeda. Now he and his collaborators hope at least a few dozen of the capsules can be saved and displayed in museums in Japan, Europe and America.
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