With demolition on the horizon, there are some glimmers of hope that at least one of the 140-odd capsules in the iconic Nakagin Capsule Tower Building might just be spared from the trash heap. 

The goal of one of the preservation groups is to save capsule A-606, both the capsule unit itself and its original interior. There are also plans to build a custom trailer so that the capsule can be towed around to various locations, such as museums, galleries, and universities allowing Kisho Kurokawa’s legacy to be appreciated by all. The estimated cost just to save this one capsule and make it mobile is around 6.5 million Yen (approx. US$59,000).

This was only made possible after some very lengthy negotiations with a lawyer and the current owner of the building. Since the owners association, made up of all of the individual capsule owners, sold the entire building to an unnamed buyer earlier this year, the fate of the building has been sealed. The new owner plans to demolish the building from March 2022, ending any hopes of saving the unique structure. On the plus side, the owner does seem open to the idea of allowing the preservation groups to salvage the capsules, at their own cost of course.

A crowdfunding page was set up to run for two months between May and July 2021 with a goal of 1.5 million Yen. Over 300 fans ended up donating a little over 4 million Yen.

Asbestos issue

Nakagin Capsule Tower was built in 1972 – a time when asbestos was widely used in many construction materials. The interiors have sprayed-on asbestos between the inner walls and steel-frame exterior. The exterior paint contains asbestos materials. Asbestos removal can only be carried out by approved contractors and can be very costly. A member of the preservation group went through the effort of training and obtaining this approval to help them save costs.

Just removing the interiors, such as the built-in cabinetry, to comply with asbestos procedures is estimated to cost around 1 million Yen for one capsule, and this is with the preservation group doing it themselves. 

New crowdfunding to save a further 139 capsules

The Nakagin Capsule Tower Preservation and Restoration Project, another preservation group, was able to obtain permission from the owner to salvage as many of the remaining 139 capsules as they want, provided they can come up with the funds to do so. The crowdfunding campaign ran until the end of August 2021 and raised a little over 5 million Yen from 300 contributors. With the cooperation of Kisho Kurokawa architect & associates, the goal is to be able to relocate the capsules to various off-site locations so that they may live on as permanent exhibits in museums, and even be converted into accommodations. 

What did these capsules cost to purchase?

Back when sales began in the early 1970s, the 10 sqm capsules were priced from 3.8 ~ 4.8 million Yen. This was considerably expensive at the time, with the futuristic crash pads marketed towards wealthy business executives. Despite the land being leasehold, during the peak of the bubble era in 1990, the same capsules were reselling for an average of around 40.52 million Yen each. That’s around 4 million Yen per square meter. In the early 2000s, they were selling for about a 10th of that. In 2017 and 2018 they were selling for between 6.5 ~ 9 million Yen per capsule. 

Interesting fact

Selling a house for removal, or in this case, a capsule for removal is not considered a real estate transaction and is not something covered under real estate transaction laws nor handled by real estate brokers. It is treated more like the sale of a used item.

Real estate means ‘immovable property’. In French it is immobolier. In Japanese, it is fudosan (不動産) which literally means immovable property.

Motion Gallery.
Suumo Journal, August 20, 2021.