Demolition of Nakagin Capsule Tower to start April 14

Demolition of the Nakagin Capsule Tower, a famed metabolist building, is scheduled to start on April 14, 2022, ending years of efforts to save the landmark structure.

The condominium-type building was built in 1972 and designed by Kisho Kurokawa, one of the leading architects of the metabolist architectural movement. 

Designed to be removable and replaceable, each of the 140 pre-fabricated capsules was attached to two central core shafts with just four bolts. Kurokawa initially proposed that the capsules be replaced every 25 years, but not a single one has been replaced to date. The futuristic capsules were marketed to wealthy businesspeople as a crash-pad for late nights and initially offered hotel-like services and amenities. 

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. 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. 

Over the past few decades, the building fell into decline and decay. Large-scale building repairs and maintenance could not be carried out due to the immense cost involved, the lack of funds put aside by the capsule owners, and disagreement within the owners association over how funds should be spent. Typically these repairs should be carried out on a building every 15 years or so, depending on conditions.

A divide grew between the capsule owners who wanted to preserve the building and those that preferred to see it demolished and sold. The preservation movement was dealt a final blow in 2018 when the leasehold land underneath the building was sold to a limited liability company. The new landlord promptly informed the capsule owners of their intent to redevelop the site and would not approve any capsule resales (some land leasehold types can give the landowner the right to approve or reject the sale or transfer of the apartments built atop that land). Capsule owners were effectively held hostage as the LLC began to buy up capsules from willing sellers. Last spring, the capsule owners voted in favor of selling the building and the land leasehold rights to a real estate company for an undisclosed amount. That company will demolish the building.

Some capsules might not end up in the demolition pile, as two groups have been crowdfunding to remove some of the capsules for preservation so they may live on as permanent exhibits in museums and maybe even as holiday accommodation in offsite locations.

Saving a capsule is not a cheap task, with one group estimating it will cost around 6.5 million Yen to remove one capsule and make it mobile. That estimate also includes the expensive cost of asbestos removal, as spray-on asbestos was used in the capsules.

The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 28, 2022.
Kyodo, March 28, 2022.

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