Introduction Today in the contemporary society, only


In 1960 under the leadership of Kenzo Tange and other young Japanese architects, the term Metabolist architecture was first introduced in the Tokyo World Conference of Design. A group of architects named themselves the Metabolists believed that by adopting this approach in architecture would save the identity of human beings and allow them to change the state of the post war Japanese society. Visualising a utopia of resilience, the metabolists applied biological metaphors to architecture and evoked the notion of a regenerable architecture in vernacular forms, in which the city would grow and transform in a manner like the evolution and metamorphosis of an organism according to human living style. While the impact of Metabolism and its movements were consequential within the discipline, their real world implementation was not well known. Today in the contemporary society, only vague fragments of the Metabolist movement could be found in Japan, as many of its experimental designs were considered bizarre and rather impractical which led to failure and demolishment.

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“Sustainability,” as an accepted terminology, can be defined as the fulfilment of the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations in meeting their own needs. Referring to architecture, sustainability is not entirely about energy efficiency, It is considered as an ecological approach to design, in which different building elements such as materials, energy, and the understanding of the users needs must be considered in the basis of conditions, ideals, and technological capabilities change. While architects play a fundamental role in shaping the contemporary society, some of them have seemed to lose touch of the people and solely seek for building qualities; sustainable architecture as a solution to environmental crisis became an overused term yet seldom referred to social and cultural qualities, social crisis such as land scarcity and overpopulation still stand as major global issues. This dissertation aim to discuss the architecture of metabolism, a Japanese postwar architectural avant-garde movement derived from the utopian vision of a group of young Japanese architects from the 1960s to 1970s. As a response to social and environmental disaster after the atomic bombing in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this rather radical architectural movement had envisioned the complete transformation of the Japanese society as a “living organism” in which the politics, social and physical structures metamorphose into sustainable spatial patterns adaptable to change. 

The focus of this dissertation is to examine the possibility of the future adaptation of the concept of Nakagin Capsule tower in 1972, which could possibly solve the modern world problems such as land scarcity and over population. The first chapter situates the founding of Metabolism and its utopia-tic manifesto within the historical situation of Japan’s postwar social transformation and cultural disorientation. Key concepts of Metabolism will be discussed in which hopefully could give reader a proper insight of this avant-garde movement before approaching to my case study and experiment later on in this dissertation. The second chapter focuses on the case study of the Nakagin Capsule tower which is one of the very few existing Metabolist building in Japan. Finding from my visit to the building would be carried out as well as interviews with a current resident. The third chapter continues with the findings in chapter 2, two experiments will be carried out, in the first part I will create a 1:1 size floor plan of the capsule and examine the possible living pattern in there. In the second part of the experiment I will approach on designing metabolic furnitures for the capsule in order to adapt different users need.

From utopia to apocalypse in less than half a century, this dissertation will critically examine the notion of Metabolism architecture and Nakagin Capsule tower through rereading of theories and analysing the reason behind its failure. Central questions are: Are there elements in the Nakagin Capsule Tower worth applying or presenting in the scheme of small housing in the contemporary society? 

1. 1960 

1.1 Essence, Substance and Phenomenon

1.2 Expo’ 1970

1.3 Metabolic Furniture

2. The Nakagin Capsule Tower

Completed in 1972, the Nagakin Capsule tower immediately became a significant event in Architecture community. Magazine Japan Architect had dedicated an entire issue in October 1972 to capsule architecture, featuring Kurokawa’s building and optimistically reflecting the potential development of metabolist architecture in the future. As the world’s first capsule architecture put in practical use, the building in fact introduced a couple of revolutionary ideas in practice, which later inspired the new building concept of the capsule hotel – a space with minimum space and supplies to provide inner city accommodation unique to big cities in Japan. Kurokawa had envisioned the Nagakin Capsule tower becoming an iconic prototype of urban architecture and stimulate mass production of prefabricated housing. This ambitious concept nevertheless did not come true. Nakagin Capsule tower remained a memorial statue in the fast changing Ginza district, commemorating the idea of metabolism.

In 2006 the Japanese Government, announced the under-going consideration of demolishing the Nakagin Capsule Tower designed by Kisho Kurokawa. Due to the lack of maintenance, it was estimated that the cost for the renovation would cost approximately 6.2 million yen (equivalent to around 40000 British Pound) per capsule. Over 80% of the capsules owner had approved the demolition by the concerns of the dilapidated condition as well as the usage of asbestos which were commonly used as a building material in the 20th century and are known to cause serious health hazards like cancer. Where most of the owners are hoping to replace the building with larger and modern complexes for economic benefits, people from all over the world were astonished by this announcement and there are a lot of opposing voices in the society arguing that the tower should be conserved in the way that it was meant to, to maintain its sustainability.
The Nakagin Capsule Tower had then been listed as an architectural heritage by DoCoMoMo in October 2006. 

2.1 Case study

2.1.1 Building intent 

Torizo Watanabe, later became the president of the real estate RM Nakagin Co., was very impressed by the temporary metabolist pavilion shown in the Expo ’70 that he then decided to retain the architect to design another capsule building for permanent use. Watanbe had developed a rather distinctive building scheme which he wanted to create a new form of working/living space for urban dwellers rather than a conventional condominium. Due to post war  economic crisis, Japanese company had developed an over time culture, Watanabe came up with a specific sale policy which implemented to target small business owners who already owned a property and looked for a place in central Tokyo as working studio or for occasional over night stay. The design of the tower responded to the emergence of “urban rovers’ and the increasing mobility characterising a post war city. The location of the Nakagin Capsule tower is situated in Ginza – central business district in Tokyo which made it adequate for its purpose.

2.1.2 Building Specification and Structural Strategies

The idea of impermanence and movability originated from concept of metabolism influenced the whole design and the construction process of the Nakagin Capsule tower. Kurokawa had naturally divided the building into three basic component according to their different “metabolic cycle”, the main permanent structures (two steel reinforced concrete shafts), the detachable elements (144 capsules) and the service facilities (utilities). They were all design according to their life spans. Kurokawaa envisioned that the main shaft would last for at least sixty years, while the capsules would last for twenty-four to twenty-five year before replacement. Kurokawa had implied the life span of the cells should not be a technical one but instead a social one that it is the changing of human needs and social relationship which decides the replacements. 

The two towers, containing inner circulations and service spaces such as electric bill are connected to each other with an outdoor bridge every three floors and the utility pipework to the capsule are attached from the outside of the cell. The two towers are in designed in different heights and the capsules are arranged in an apparently random pattern, suggesting the entire building develops in a continuous process which also implies the two shafts could grow and more capsules could be stacked up. Kurokawa had interpreted the incomplete appearance as the “aesthetic of time,’ referring to the central notion of Metabolism of the city as process.

Looking into the structure strategy of the capsule, each has a size of 2400 millimeters x 4000 millimeters x 2400 millimeters (identical to shipping container). The cell is built of welded light weight steel frames covered with galvanised rib reinforced steel panels then coated with Kenitex glossy spray. Each of them are fixed to one of the concrete tower with only four high tension bolts at the four corners of the face, it allows every cell to be easily removable and when the cell reaches its life span, a new capsule could be replaced to enhance the sustainability of the building until the main structure falls into disrepair. In order to provide basic activity space and living qualities to the extremely confined space, the layout of the interior space is designed very carefully: a built in integrative bathroom unit at the corner, a bed underneath the window, appliances and storage area alongside to the wall including a television, a refrigerator, a kitchen stove, an air conditioner, a telephone, a stereo, a clock and a foldable desk.

The construction took place in separate locations, on site and off site. On site construction included the podium and the two towers. The capsules were prefabricated and assembled in a factory in other cities. After getting transported to the site , they were then lifted by crane and attached to the core towers. Each capsule is installed individually and cantilevered from the shaft so that any capsule could be removed without affecting the others. The whole construction process only took one year, this is because the building is a type of modular architecture (or prefabricated architecture) which at the time was a rather new construction method.

2.1.3 Revisit to the Capsule tower
In order to fully understand the building, I have visited the building this summer.

2.1.4 Interview with the resident


3. Experiment

3.1 Capsule Living

3.2 Metabolic Furniture 2.0