A Year in the Metabolist Future of 1972
May 13, 2015 8:32 PM   Subscribe

Tokyo's Nakagin Capsule Tower [previously] was designed to be upgraded every 20 years or so. Instead it's been slowly disintegrating for more than 40. Two young architects lived there for a year and described what it's like.

There's many more fascinating tales of urban failure on Failed Architecture, also seen previously on metafilter.
posted by moonmilk (41 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thanks for the post, it's interesting for me in the sense that it presents a near perfect negative image of the place I want to end up living, namely off the grid in a self built (and self sustaining, as far as is reasonable) house that stands a fair chance of outliving me.

The only parallel I can draw with the owners/residents of these capsules is that they seem to have an identity and relationship that meshes well with their homes, even the ones that are modifying them, often out of desperate need, as time passes. I think that's a powerful thing... that contentment and rightness that can be drawn from living in a place and in a way that is honorable and meaningful to the person doing the residing. Their home is no less fitting for that purpose than the one I someday hope to build for myself and my family.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:07 PM on May 13, 2015


This is indeed a fascinating piece. It's maybe worth noting that Habitat - also an experimental modular complex built a few years earlier for Expo 67 in Montreal - is thriving. Though never replicated.
posted by Flashman at 9:07 PM on May 13, 2015 [7 favorites]


This was a great read, thank you. I'd missed earlier posts about the capsule tower. I'm amazed, really, that some similar sort of pod building hasn't been re-imagined since.
posted by dejah420 at 9:58 PM on May 13, 2015


This article arouses equal parts nostalgia for the lost allure of mid-century modernism, and horror at the claustrophobic mouldering reality, which, as it turns out, are two great tastes that taste great together. A good read!
posted by anazgnos at 10:09 PM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


My first time in Tokyo I took a picture of that without knowing what is was. Eleven years later I find out it's far more interesting than I ever would have thought.

Thanks for the post.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:36 PM on May 13, 2015


A wonderful post: particularly creepy for me, in my early forties, as I distinctly remember reading about this building in my pre-teenage years (Tiger Annual 1976, I suspect) as What The Future Would Look Like.

EVERYTHING I KNOW REALLY IS WRONG!
posted by motty at 10:37 PM on May 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


Fascinating read. Thank you.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:40 PM on May 13, 2015


The idea is sound, or could be: This is what an inner-city equivalent to a trailer park would be. A tower with "parking spots" configured in a standard way; an enforced code which limits x, y, and z-dimensions and weight; and a semi-reasonable price, one hopes, for individual units. A moveable gantry crane sits atop the building to lift new units into place and remove old ones. Richer folks could buy multiple units designed to join together once in place.

And when the matrix happens, the humans-as-power-sources already has infrastructure.
posted by maxwelton at 10:48 PM on May 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


The idea is sound, or could be: This is what an inner-city equivalent to a trailer park would be.

That is not the most inspiring of endorsements.

Sadly the page is not loading on my computer, but I have an abiding love for failed utopian architecture and I hope it will work when I try again tomorrow.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:57 PM on May 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Perhaps the biggest flaw was that all of the modules started the same. I wonder if things would have turned out differently if the modules had been sold over a period of years with new models every couple years.

I'd almost imagine it converging on some idea like the ikea cube storage, where your personal effects are placed in removable storage inserts so you can order a new module, have all your belongings moved over in a day and have a whole new house whenever you get a big bonus.
posted by ethansr at 11:52 PM on May 13, 2015


Nakagin has exceeded the point at which most buildings are scheduled for demolition (30 years) but is still far from qualifying as a subject of public interest (50 years)
I never considered the idea of not building forever. I mean, it just makes sense, but I don't know... I like brutalism, too, so I guess I just have issues with accepting impermanence...
posted by mikelieman at 12:29 AM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


The future of housing is seacans (shipping containers).
posted by five fresh fish at 1:28 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I love this building. A few years ago one capsule was on the market at a totally reasonable price, and I was sorely tempted to become a pod person. Kurokawa's vision was amazing. Fortunately, I was saved the expense, but now get to work in a different Metabolism building, so I couldn't be happier. Unless, the amazing future of Metabolism had come true.

Here's Metabolism in a Minute.
posted by Gotanda at 2:23 AM on May 14, 2015


Dunno. I would live in such a space. All I really need is somewhere to eat sleep and put my harem of computers.
posted by Samizdata at 3:26 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


The future of housing is seacans (shipping containers).

So far, every building I've seen made of them just looks like ... a bunch of stacked shipping containers. Here's one I drive by every night as an example. They get the job done at an appealing cost ($2-3K each), but as with the dumpster house, they aren't aesthetically appealing or comfortable as a home without a lot of energy inputs. Like most new buildings, they ignore centuries of local design strategies for dealing with heat, cold, humidity, etc., compensating primarily with climate control. The big steel box factor increases that need. There could be something here in the right hands, but typically it feels more like a marketing strategy than a design solution.

That is not the most inspiring of endorsements.

Not all trailer parks are hellholes, obviously. Living in a city with rapidly vanishing space for development, an affordable housing crisis that is going to strangle its economy, and a very mobile population, a nationwide network of Capsule Tower-like rentable docks with multiple vendors selling and transporting the units sounds very appealing.
posted by ryanshepard at 4:46 AM on May 14, 2015


Repurposing shipping containers is problematic. The corrugated skin is a structural element, and can't be meaningfully penetrated without reinforcing. The ISO corner castings are insufficiently accurate to create large structures with interconnections between units (mismatch stacks up, so as you go taller the difference between adjacent units becomes excessive).

The idea of transportable interconnectable modular structural units, however, strikes me as a good one. You still have very substantial transport problems (especially across bridges), difficulty with hard surface finishes (tile tends to crack), and the like, but if you're not transporting beyond say 250 miles or so you can pull it off.

There's a new system I think is fairly interesting, but it hasn't been used in a major structure yet. They did just get a large investment from a humongo company, so maybe it'll go somewhere...
posted by aramaic at 6:20 AM on May 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


The idea of transportable interconnectable modular structural units, however, strikes me as a good one. You still have very substantial transport problems (especially across bridges), difficulty with hard surface finishes (tile tends to crack), and the like, but if you're not transporting beyond say 250 miles or so you can pull it off.

Between crane rental at each end and the per mile and per trip costs of oversize transport, this might be more expensive than people are thinking.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:41 AM on May 14, 2015


I watched this place being built a couple of years ago. All the rooms were prefabbed and pre-furnished and arrived in stacks to be slotted into place in the frame. Seems to work well enough.
posted by Devonian at 6:48 AM on May 14, 2015


The future of housing is seacans (shipping containers).

I spent a lazy Saturday looking at this. From what I can see the vertical dimension is a bit small to not be claustrophobic, and the old ones have probably been used to transport toxic things requiring extensive reconditioning to make even minimally habitable. After addressing all this issues, it's probably cheaper and easier to start with lumber.
posted by wotsac at 7:14 AM on May 14, 2015


oooh i'm rereading Neuromancer for the zillionth time and i've always meant to google capsule hotels so i could get a better picture in my head.

this is cool.
posted by sio42 at 7:15 AM on May 14, 2015


I should have been more specific -- the 250 mile figure wasn't chosen randomly, it's the radius most commonly used by low-rise modular manufacturers (industry average, any specific firm might differ). Generally speaking, they don't bother to bid a job if it's beyond that range, because they know they won't get it. The cost of shipping devours their margin.

If they're running oversize, then the distance gets cut significantly, and there are problematic jurisdictions where they won't bother if they have to go through (mainly infrastructure limitations, but sometimes legal complications as far as road permits etc.).

Crane rental can be simultaneously a huge problem and not a problem, depending on the local market and the nature of the project. Modules usually to require heavier lifts than traditional construction, so if you're used to small jobs just winging it with some JLGs, the additional cost of a serious road-mobile crane can kill the budget. Additionally, depending on the site you might have to close the local roads during the lifts (which you could avoid if you're winging it with JLGs), and the fees there can also be catastrophic. However, if the project is large enough to use a traditional erection company, then you'd already be paying for serious lift capacity so going modular won't make as much of a difference and you can pick whole units off the truck beds -- accelerating your erection, probably reducing your overall crane time, and actually reducing your traffic impact fees.

It's all a horrible balancing act, which is why construction is fun.

I've always sorta thought that I should build a, say, four/five story steel frame and just put Airstream trailers on it, become a hipster B&B. Big decks, mostly exposed except for the core. Make sure everyone can see the shiny trailers. Not having anywhere near enough money, it's mainly one of those things that rolls around in the back of your head.
posted by aramaic at 7:15 AM on May 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


Reminds me of The Glass Bank, which recently met an ignoble end and sad fate for its sole resident.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:16 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I should have been more specific -- the 250 mile figure wasn't chosen randomly, it's the radius most commonly used by low-rise modular manufacturers (industry average, any specific firm might differ). Generally speaking, they don't bother to bid a job if it's beyond that range, because they know they won't get it. The cost of shipping devours their margin.

I thought you were talking about portable units, as in you take your house with you. For that the transport and crane issues would be huge, much more so than in the original construction, in part because crane and trucking companies are not currently set up to deal with your average clueless homeowners. Even getting an accurate weight estimate on an occupied unit would be hard.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:22 AM on May 14, 2015


(And I love the multistory Airstream idea!)
posted by Dip Flash at 7:22 AM on May 14, 2015


I never considered the idea of not building forever. I mean, it just makes sense, but I don't know... I like brutalism, too, so I guess I just have issues with accepting impermanence...

Any building starts falling apart the minute it's completed(or probably before). Sometimes they're worth keeping up with but yeah, 30-40 years will probably put most structures on the verge of being more trouble than they're worth.
posted by ghharr at 7:27 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is a theatrical stage set, not an actual multistory Airstream housing project, but it looks amazing.
posted by moonmilk at 8:05 AM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


In the previous discussion of Nakagin, lemuring pointed out that it's not possible to replace any individual capsule without removing all of the capsules above it. So if it was ever intended that capsule owners could upgrade their capsules at their own pace, that never worked out.

Also, according to one of the linked critiques there, it's not really possible to repair or replace a module's plumbing without removing the module - and to do that, of course, you'd have to remove all the capsules above.
posted by moonmilk at 8:10 AM on May 14, 2015


sio42: oooh i'm rereading Neuromancer for the zillionth time and i've always meant to google capsule hotels so i could get a better picture in my head.

Unfortunately your picture is not accurate - those are more like this: http://en.geourdu.co/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Capsule-Hotels-01.jpg
posted by thedaniel at 9:21 AM on May 14, 2015


I would love to live there. But I have too much stuff!
posted by Splunge at 10:01 AM on May 14, 2015


Any building starts falling apart the minute it's completed(or probably before). Sometimes they're worth keeping up with but yeah, 30-40 years will probably put most structures on the verge of being more trouble than they're worth.

Are you serious? Where on earth do you live? Here in Seattle, I own a totally normal house like thousands of other houses in this city, nothing special or historically significant about it, which is just about a century old. I just finished remodeling a couple of its bedrooms, because I didn't like the carpet or the drop ceilings, but in general the house is in great shape. I can look up and down my street and see plenty of other houses just as old, in various states of repair and renovation. There are a handful of new houses too.

And Seattle is a relatively new city! There's nothing *here* older than the late 1800s. People are building all over the place, but there's absolutely nothing like the kind of wholesale demolition that would have to be going on if what you're saying were true. Seriously, looking out my office window right now, I'm guessing that two thirds of the visible structures are far beyond your 30-40 year window.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:11 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's old and there's old.

If you rattle around places like London or Edinburgh, there's a lot of housing stock from the 18th century onwards that's still doing a great job and is certainly just as practicable as the stuff from the pre-war suburbs. It's the grand post-war fabric that's most obviously in trouble.
posted by Devonian at 10:24 AM on May 14, 2015


Assemblage buildings are basically a solution looking for a problem. They're not going to be cheaper to build than other manufactured construction, and the ability to connect and reconnect units means you need connectors for electricity, gas, water and sewage, as well as the wasted space that allows you to join them up. The walls of each unit are effectively doubled - more than doubled, because they need to be sturdy enough to support themselves in transport. Also, you lose the economies that come from having dwellings that aren't necessarily rectangular.

Assemblage buildings are effectively vertical trailer parks, but trailer parks exist because land is cheap, trailers don't take up much room, and manufactured housing is cheaper than regular housing built on a regular lot. But those advantages disappear when you're building vertically: apartments use height, not area; and additional apartments are actually pretty cheap. So even though I love the idea, it's hard to find an economic argument for assemblage housing rather than regular apartments.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:58 PM on May 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


This place is on the list of places i want to stay at one point just to do it, and that i really hope i'll get a chance to before they're gone.

It's on airbnb. Pretty cheap too. The list of failed systems described in what you are/aren't allowed to do is pretty funny and sad as well.
posted by emptythought at 4:30 PM on May 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Helluva horror movie or videogame could be set here.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:52 PM on May 14, 2015


This reminded me of the Disney Contemporary Resort hotel building which used a conceptually similar construction methodology. Urban legend is that the building is designed to allow rooms to be removed and replaced at will. The truth about that is addressed here in a nice article.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 10:04 PM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


sio42: oooh i'm rereading Neuromancer for the zillionth time and i've always meant to google capsule hotels so i could get a better picture in my head.

Unfortunately your picture is not accurate - those are more like this: http://en.geourdu.co/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Capsule-Hotels-01.jpg
posted by thedaniel at 12:21 PM on May 14 [+][!]


yes thanks for the link tho :)

this post reminded me to look up the ones case might have used. i somehow got the feeling his was slightly larger than the type you linked to but def smaller than the cube things this post is about. unless he and molly were lke really really small.
posted by sio42 at 11:12 AM on May 15, 2015


Any building starts falling apart the minute it's completed(or probably before). Sometimes they're worth keeping up with but yeah, 30-40 years will probably put most structures on the verge of being more trouble than they're worth.

That's...not even wrong. Precisely what planet do you live on that people tear down anything older than 40 years because it's not worth keeping up?
posted by kjs3 at 10:08 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Precisely what planet do you live on that people tear down anything older than 40 years because it's not worth keeping up?

I think the 30 years thing comes from historical preservation in the US, because 30 year old buildings tend to have a lot of deferred maintenance and code issues and are old enough to be out of fashion but aren't old enough to be considered classic. That period from 30-50 years is when buildings get torn down because rebuilding is cheaper than rehabbing; if they can survive that period people tend to want to keep them around.

It's easy to see with public buildings (good luck getting people excited about preserving a boxy 1980's post office or elementary, for example) but you see it with houses, too. Mid-century modern has somewhat come back into style, but a late 1970s or 1980s house with T-111 siding and a snout garage isn't going to inspire much love yet. (1970s split levels are almost old enough now and I expect to start seeing blogs and articles about careful restorations soon.)
posted by Dip Flash at 3:30 AM on May 16, 2015


kjs3: "Precisely what planet do you live on that people tear down anything older than 40 years because it's not worth keeping up?"

Planet Japan. Like, Mars Saxman said "Here in Seattle, I own a totally normal house like thousands of other houses in this city, nothing special or historically significant about it, which is just about a century old...I can look up and down my street and see plenty of other houses just as old, in various states of repair and renovation." Well, here on the outskirts of Tokyo, I own a totally normal house like thousands of other houses, and it's about 5 years old. And when I look up and down my street, I see them tearing down houses that are 30 or 40 years old to build new houses. And the handful of 50 year old houses are a sneeze away from collapsing into termite-eaten rubble.
posted by Bugbread at 8:09 AM on May 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's a good Freakanomics podcast episode about why housing in Japan is so commonly torn down and rebuilt. Worth listening to if you find this topic interesting.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 2:42 PM on May 18, 2015


Planet Japan also has some of the oldest continually occupied structures on the planet...so not all or nothing.
posted by kjs3 at 6:13 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


« Older "Every surgeon carries within himself a small...   |   Like Threes, but with a mouse Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments