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Nakagin Capsule Tower: Revisiting the Future of the Recent Past

By Zhongjie Lin (Associate Professor of Architecture) | The debates surrounding the proposed demolition of Kisho Kurokawa’s Nakagin Capsule Tower provide a unique opportunity to re-examine Metabolism’s historic role in postwar modernism and its influence on contemporary architecture. Although one can argue that conflicts between urban development and architectural conservation are a commonplace characteristic of the contemporary metropolis, the intense conflict between redevelopment and conservation in Japan is emblematic of an enduring cultural attitude toward urban change that relies upon a paradoxical relationship between transformation and continuity. This distinctly Japanese cultural attitude underlies Metabolist urban theory and informs the design of the Nakagin Capsule Tower. The building was an experimental project meant to support a new post-war lifestyle, and facilitate change and renewal in an increasingly dynamic urban fabric. In many ways, the ideas and values that created the Nagakin Capsule Tower are the same ideas and values that are threatening to destroy it. An examination of the building’s recent past and possible futures reveals the complex legacy of Metabolism’s unfulfilled urban visions.


In April 2007, a brief report on Architectural Record’s online journal drew worldwide attention to a building in Tokyo: “Kurokawa’s Nakagin Capsule Tower to be Razed.”[1] This news astonished many readers because the Nakagin building is not only an icon of postwar modern architecture in Japan, but it also represents a rare and arguably the finest built work resulting from the historic Metabolist movement. Completed in 1972, the building consists of two interconnected towers at eleven and thirteen stories respectively, supporting a total of 144 interchangeable ‘capsules’ in the size and shape of a shipping container. Each capsule houses a self-contained residential unit attached to one of the towers with flexible joints, showcasing the essential Metabolist idea of adaptability and replaceability. [Fig. 1] Nakagin Capsule Tower was listed as an architectural heritage site by DoCoMoMo in 2006, but no concrete measure has been taken to protect the building, and its interior has fallen into disrepair despite its continuous use as a residential building. [Fig. 2] Concerns have also been raised among its residents about the health issues related to the use of asbestos on the capsules and the building’s ability to withstand earthquakes.[2] These concerns prompted the property owners to vote to tear down the Capsule Tower and replace it with a new fourteen-story tower, despite a popular campaign launched by Kisho Kurokawa to save the building.[3]



The campaign to save Nakagin Capsule Tower coincides with a renewed interest in postwar avant-garde movements and a growing appreciation of the Metabolists’ futuristic design concepts and dynamic forms. The Metabolists’ work first became known to the world through a few articles by Günter Nitschke in Architectural Design in 1964 and Reyner Banham’s 1976 Megastructure.[4] Banham associated Metabolism with the other megastructural movements in the West between the mid 1950s and early 1970s. Writing in the aftermath of worldwide student uprisings and an energy crisis that led to the surge of environmental movements and social activism, Banham used an ironic subtitle, Urban Futures of the Recent Past, implying that these ambitious megastructural concepts were no longer relevant to contemporary architecture and cities. He wrote: “For the two decades of its maximum potency it was also, probably, the hinge of a crisis in architectural thinking that may also prove to have been the terminal crisis of ‘Modern’ architecture as we have known it.”[5]

These megastructural movements, despite Banham’s assertion, have been re-examined and revived in recent years by architectural scholars and institutions. In 2002, the Royal Institute of British Architects awarded a RIBA Gold Medal to Archigram, indicating a remarkable turnaround in attitude toward this avant-garde group, one no less ironic considering Archigram’s early rebellion against established institutions and practices.[6] This recognition was soon followed by a series of publications and exhibitions on those postwar megastructural movements featured in Banham’s book.[7] These publications and exhibitions focus mainly on reconstructing the histories of these megastructural movements and reinterpreting their architectural and urban theories as well as their political implications in the postwar context. However, the threat of demolition of Nakagin Capsule Tower indicates that the discourse must be extended to the level of specific artifacts in order to examine these visionary concepts and their impact on contemporary urbanism and architecture.

The controversy surrounding Kurokawa’s building raises a number of questions about the legacy of the Metabolist movement in Japan and elsewhere, along with related questions about preservation practice. Was the Metabolist movement a regional variation of the post-war fascination with megastructure, or was it a distinctly Japanese movement that worked across many scales? Should Metabolist buildings be preserved, given the movement’s explicit celebration of continuous change and adaptability? And, despite the failed promises of many Metabolist proposals, should Metabolist ideas inform contemporary design and conservation? In other words, what is the real legacy of Metabolism?

Through a discussion of the Nakagin Capsule Tower’s past, present, and possible future, this paper will address these questions from both an architectural and urban perspective. I will argue that the rationale for the preservation of the Nakagin Capsule Tower lies in its ability to link an architectural idea—the capsule, a form of prefabrication—to Metabolism’s unfulfilled urban visions. On the architectural scale, I investigate the original Metabolist ideas leading to the design of the tower, and examine how these ideas advanced architectural innovations in terms of module and prefabrication. On the urban scale, I want to contest Banham’s generalized view of megastructure, and demonstrate that the idea of Metabolism was not only rooted in the particular Japanese tradition and urban culture but also embodies multiple paradigms of urbanism, namely, megastructure, group form, and ruins. Two of the paradigms—group form and ruins—in fact offer alternatives to the megastructure project, although all three models grew from the central Metabolist notion of the city as an organism. While a Metabolist city was never entirely realized and the attempts to translate Metabolist form into built projects almost always failed, the Metabolist notion of urban transformation and renewal has important lessons for contemporary architects and urbanists.

Revisiting the Metabolist idea of the city as an organism in transformation offers new insights into the dilemmas associated with the conservation of modern architecture. The Nakagin Capsule Tower is among a number of notable modern buildings threatened for demolition in Japan in recent years. Although one can argue that conflicts between urban development and architectural conservation are a commonplace characteristic of the contemporary metropolis, the Japanese context has accentuated the contradiction between the growth of cities and the impulse to preserve historical fabric and landmarks. The notoriously high cost of land in Japanese cities has directly impacted these demolition decisions. On a more fundamental level, however, intense conflict between redevelopment and conservation is emblematic of an enduring cultural attitude toward urban change and regeneration in Japan, an issue with even more relevance after the incredible disruption of the March 2011 earthquake. This attitude in fact underlay Metabolist urban theory, and Nakagin Capsule Tower was an experimental project that intended to facilitate change and renewal through periodic replacement of capsule housing units. In other words, the ideas and values that created the Nagakin Capsule Tower are, to a large extent, the same ideas and values that are threatening to destroy it. One has to take in consideration this relationship when discussing any proposals for saving the Tower or attempting to re-evaluate the Metabolist movement. Looking through the lens of Nakagin Capsule Tower, its history and current debates about its likely destruction, this paper tries to provide a focused yet more integrated understanding of the legacy of the Metabolist project.

The Metabolist Movement

The Metabolist movement was launched in 1960, when a group of young architects and designers published their radical manifesto Metabolism: the Proposals for New Urbanism at the World Design Conference in Tokyo.[8] Besides Kurokawa and Kikutake, the founders of the Metabolist group included architects Masato Otaka and Fumihiko Maki, architectural critic Noboru Kawazoe, industrial designer Ekuan Kenji, and graphic designer Kiyoshi Awazu. They chose the name “metabolism” for the group because it indicated a fundamental idea shared among these architects and designers – a particular biotechnical notion of the “city as an organic process” which stood in opposition to the modernist paradigm of city design as a machinic system. This perspective was made clear in the introductory statement of the manifesto:

Metabolism is the name of the group, in which each member proposes future designs of our coming world through his concrete designs and illustrations. We regard human society as a vital process – a continuous development from atom to nebula. The reason why we use such a biological word, metabolism, is that we believe design and technology should be a denotation of human society. We are not going to accept metabolism as a natural historical process, but try to encourage active metabolic development of our society through our proposals.[9]

In their theoretical urban projects, the Metabolists often envisioned the sea and the sky as human habitats of the future, and they proposed that a city would grow, transform, and die like an organism. In order to accommodate the growth and regeneration of the modern city, they called for establishing a system of urban design distinguishing elements of different scales and durations, namely, the “permanent element” such as urban infrastructure, versus the “transient element” such as individual houses. Responding to the distinct “metabolic cycles” in the city, the Metabolists’ designs were often characterized by the combination of a megastructure, serving as the permanent base, and numerous individual units attached to the megastructure and subject to more frequent replacement. For instance, Kikutake’s Marine City featured numerous standardized housing units clipped onto a few enormous ferroconcrete cylindrical towers. The towers serving as the main structure of the city would grow as population increased, and the individual living pods would conduct periodical self-renewal. [Fig. 3] As a dramatic representation of the Metabolists’ concept of city as process, this combination of megastructure and cell became the trademark of their architecture.


Although they never became formal members of the group, Kenzo Tange and Arata Isozaki were also actively involved in the Metabolist movement. Tange especially was acknowledged as the mentor of the Metabolist architects and virtually the creator of the group because of his position as chair of the programs committee of the World Design Conference. In fact, the program committee was eventually reorganized to become the Metabolism group. Tange’s Plan for Tokyo, also completed in 1960, represented a sophisticated synthesis of the Metabolist ideas on a grand scale. [Fig. 4] Featuring a linear series of interlocking loops that spanned the city across the Tokyo Bay, this plan served as a polemical alternative to the official plans of Tokyo, and proposed to fundamentally transform the urban structure of this mega-city.[10]


The Metabolist urban project sought an alternative social order for the world through these proposals for restructuring rapidly expanding cities. Their design concepts were full of political implications, often based on a modern vision of collective society. Metabolism was often associated with other avant-garde movements in the 1950s and 1960s, such as Team 10 and Archigram in the Great Britain, the Groupe d’Etudes d’Architecture Mobile (GEAM) led by Yona Friedman in France, and Superstudio in Italy. Rebelling against the status quo of urban reconstruction in the postwar era, these architect-urbanists shared an interest in three-dimensional urban structure as the framework for urban growth, and they wanted to revolutionize the way the modern city was built and operated. Due to the vast scale and utopian nature of these schemes, it was not surprising that very few of the megastructural projects were realized.

With the advent of an energy crisis in the early 1970s and the rise of environmental movements, megastructure’s popularity among architects, planners, and potential clients waned.[11] In 1976 when Reyner Banham documented these utopian movements in Megastructure: Urban Future of the Recent Past, he called the megastructures “dinosaurs of the modern movement,” referring not only to their enormous scale but also implying that they had by then become extinct as a “species.”[12] Metabolism was no exception. Banham criticized the “mind-numbing simplicity” of the Metabolists’ theoretical program, and accused Tange’s Tokyo Bay project of having a “destructive influence” on the French and Italian megastructural projects.[13] Indeed, the Metabolists urban ideas were only realized, somewhat symbolically, in a small number of building projects, such as Tange’s Yamanashi Press and Broadcasting Center built in 1967 and Kurokawa’s Nakagin Capsule Tower. Nevertheless, Banham recognized that through the Metabolist projects and the Metabolist manifesto, megastructure had become an important tool to “make a unique Japanese contribution to modern architecture,” and led Japanese architecture to a higher degree of maturity and independence of other cultures’ ‘neo-colonialist” views by exploiting new construction technologies.[14]

Design and Construction of the Nakagin Capsule Tower

Banham does not mention particular examples of the innovation in construction technologies he found praiseworthy in the work of the Metabolists. However, the development of advanced prefabrication construction techniques, such as the capsule technology used in Kurokawa’s Nagakin Capsule Tower, would have been known to him. Kurokawa began his exploration of capsule architecture at the 1970 World Exposition in Osaka through the design of the Takara Beautilion, which became one of the most popular architectural fantasies at the Expo. [Fig. 5] The building consisted of a three-dimensional framework of steel pipes and a number of prefabricated cubic capsules clad in stainless steel and installed in the framework with connectors. The capsules housed displays of the Takara Corporation’s beauty products. The framework terminated at opened joints, giving the building an unusual silhouette and suggesting the incompleteness and expandability of the structure. Kurokawa took full advantage of the technology of prefabrication, making possible instant assembly of the structure and installation of capsules. In fact, the Takara Beautilion was put together on site in only six days.


The Takara Beautilion, along with most other structures at Osaka Expo, was demolished after the end of the event, but the Expo effect lingered. Torizo Watanabe, then president of the real estate firm Nakagin Co., visited Osaka Expo and was so impressed by the Takara Beautilion that he decided to retain the architect to design a capsule building for permanent use. Watanabe conceived of this development not as a conventional condominium but rather a new form of work/live space for urban dwellers. A specific sale policy was implemented to target small or medium business owners and high-level employees who already owned a house or apartment and wanted a space in Tokyo’s center city as a studio or for occasional overnight stays. Kurokawa also claimed that: “The Capsules are housing for homo movens: people on the move.”[15] His design responded to the emergence of “urban nomads” and the increasing mobility characterizing an emerging global city. The location of the Nakagin Building at bustling Giza central business district made it suitable for this purpose.[16] [Fig. 6]


This idea of impermanence and movability originating in Metabolism’s concept of the city influenced every step of the design and construction of Nakagin Capsule Tower. According to their different “metabolic cycles,” Kurokawa configured the building with three basic components: the permanent structure (two ferroconcrete shafts), the moveable elements (144 capsules), and the service equipment (utilities). Their designed were based on different life spans. Kurokawa envisioned that the main shafts would last at least sixty years, while the capsules would be due for replacement in twenty-five to thirty-five years. He noted that the life span of the capsule was not a mechanical one, but rather a social one, implying that changing human needs and social relationships would necessitate such periodic replacement.[17] The towers, containing circulation and service spaces, are connected to each other via outdoor bridges every three floors and serve as vertical “artificial land,” upon which capsules are installed. The utility pipelines are attached to the outside of the capsules. The towers rise to different heights and the capsules are arranged in a seemingly random pattern, suggesting an on-going process: the shaft could grow and more capsules could be piled up. Kurokawa regarded this incomplete look as the “aesthetic of time,” referring to Metabolism’s central notion of the city as process.[18] [Fig. 7, 8]



Each capsule is tied to one of the concrete cores with only four high-tension bolts: two each on the upper and lower sides. That means that every unit is removable and, by updating the capsules, the whole system would be renewed. The capsule measures 7.5 ft x 12.5 ft x 7 ft and is built of a light-weight welded steel frame – identical to a shipping container in structure and size – and covered with galvanized rib-reinforced steel panels finished with a coat of Kenitex glossy spray. There is a Plexiglas porthole window on each capsule, 4-¼ ft in diameter. Because of the capsule’s distinct form, Charles Jencks jokingly described the building as “super-imposed washing machines.”[19] [Fig. 9, 10]



The interior of the capsule was also designed using industrial technologies. A variety of installations were built into an extremely compact space: an integrated bathroom unit at a corner, a bed underneath the window, and appliances and cabinets along the other wall including a color television set, a refrigerator, a kitchen stove, an air conditioner, a telephone, a stereo, an air cleaner, a table light, a clock, and a desk calculator. The aim was to provide basic space and outfitting to support the lifestyle of a modern urban person in the city. When the capsules were sold in 1972, their prices ranged from $12,300 to $14,600, about the cost of a luxury car of the time.[20]

Construction took place in separate locations, both on-site and off-site. The only on-site construction was the two towers and space for utilities and equipment. Capsules were prefabricated and assembled in another city by a manufacturer that produced railroad vehicle and vessels. After transport to the building site, they were hoisted by crane and fastened to the concrete shafts starting from the bottom up. Each capsule was installed independently and cantilevered from the shaft so that it could be removed without affecting others. The construction of the entire Nakagin Capsule Tower took only a year. [Fig. 11, 12]



Saving the Future of the Recent Past

When Nakagin Capsule Tower was unveiled in 1972, Japan Architect dedicated the entire October 1972 issue to capsule architecture, featuring Kurokawa’s building, discussing its potential impact, and projecting an optimistic future for capsule architecture. As the world’s first fully built capsule building, Nakagin Capsule Tower introduced a number of revolutionary ideas in design. It helped establish a new building type, the capsule hotel, that provided a compact and efficient accommodation unique to Japanese cities. Furthermore, some portions of the design of Nakagin Capsule Tower later made their way into industrial products, such as the prefabricated integrated bathroom. Kurokawa envisioned the capsule building as a new prototype for prefabricated housing that would unleash the power of mass production in urban settings. However, this vision was not realized due to the high costs of the innovative construction and the small, standardized units that only accommodated the needs of a single person. In the 39 years since its construction, Nakagin Capsule Tower became more or less a monolithic and static icon in the midst of the bustling and fast changing Giza district, commemorating the ideal of a metabolic city but no longer participating in its processes. [Fig. 13]


Kurokawa designed the capsules to have a twenty-five to thirty-five year lifespan. Ironically, contemporary cities like Tokyo are growing and transforming so rapidly that their change outpaces the generational “metabolism” envisioned by the Metabolists, and change at this pace operates on the scale of the entire building instead of components, such as the capsules. Hence the plan to demolish the Capsule Tower – and it is not an isolated case. In fact, a few famous Metabolist buildings have been torn down in the last decade even though these buildings were still in sound condition. In 2006 Kurokawa lost his Sony Tower, Nakagin Capsule Tower’s sister building in Osaka. Kikutake’s Sofitel Tokyo, a 1994 building characterized by a dynamic form emblematic of the architect’s concept of “Tree-shaped Community,” was torn down in 2007 after only thirteen years of service. [Fig. 14] Going back a little further, Tange’s iconic Tokyo City Hall in Marunouchi district, completed in 1957, was demolished in 1992 to make room for Rafael Viñoly’s Tokyo International Forum after a new city hall – also by Tange – had been erected in Shinjuku in 1991.


Extremely high land costs in major Japanese cities and the constant desire to maximize land value have driven the decisions to tear down each of these examples of the Metabolist legacy. According to historian Botand Bognar, the average construction cost of a building in a large city in Japan accounts for only about 10 percent of the land on which it sits; this results in more renovations and redevelopments in Japan than in most other nations.[21] Landmark buildings designed by renowned architects are no exception. The Metabolist buildings were hit particularly hard because, paradoxically, the rigorous megastructure-capsule distinctions offer little flexibility in terms of occupancy and structural expansion. In addition, because the Metabolist architects expressed each capsule on the façade in order to represent the individuality of their occupants, the floor-area ratios of Metabolist buildings are often below average, making them less economically viable. In fact, the new fourteen-story building being proposed to replace Nakagin Capsule Tower would generate 60 percent more square footage.

Anticipating the necessity of renewal and upgrade of the capsules after thirty years of use, Kisho Kurokawa Architects & Associates has been working on a “Nakagin Capsule Tower Renovation Plan” since 1998. The plan proposes updating service equipment and replacing capsules with new units while keeping the structural shafts intact. [Fig. 15, 16] By so doing, the building would undergo self-renewal as the architect originally envisioned. Measured at around 14 feet by 9 feet and 8 ft in height, the new capsule would be slightly larger than the existing one, and it would no longer include built-in furnishing, except a prefabricated bathroom. Kurokawa argued that replacing the capsules would save more money than tearing down the tower and building a new one. The property owners’ association, however, remained unconvinced and has continued to pursue a complete redevelopment.



When the property owners’ redevelopment plan was made public in 2007, Kurokawa launched a campaign to save the Tower in the last year of his life.[22] He argued forcefully against the demolition plan, and implied a conspiracy by citing the involvement of some American hedge fund in this redevelopment. His interviews were widely disseminated through both traditional media and internet blogs, and he appealed directly to various architectural communities. Several major architectural organizations in Japan, including the Japan Institute of Architects, the Japan Federation of Architects and Building Engineers Associations, and DoCoMoMo Japan, unanimously endorsed Kurokawa’s plan to protect the building and his renovation proposal.[23] Kurokawa also received enormous support from the international community of architects and designers. According to a poll of over 10,000 architects from 100 countries by London-based World Architecture News, 95 percent voted to preserve the building and 75 percent voted to support Kurokawa’s idea of replacing the capsules.[24] The overwhelming support from the profession indicates a general acknowledgement of Nakagin Capsule Tower as an architectural artifact with valuable cultural heritage.

Architects contributing to the polls of World Architecture News were excited about the idea of replacing the Nakagin Building’s capsules, which, for them, could test “what is possible with modularization.”[25] The growing interest in the design of this building and other works by the Metabolists was also manifested in a few high-profiled exhibitions and art reviews. The exhibition called “Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling” at the Museum of Modern Art in 2008 included a model of the Capsule Tower, and praised it as “representing the whole world of architectural thoughts in the 1960s from the Metabolist group in Japan.”[26] The New York Times’ architectural critic Nicolai Ouroussoff sumed up its significance after visiting the building: “The Capsule Tower is not only gorgeous architecture; like all great buildings, it is the crystallization of a far-reaching cultural ideal. Its existence also stands as a powerful reminder of paths not taken, of the possibility of worlds shaped by different sets of values.”[27]

The widespread and vocal support for preserving the Nakagin Building aligns with a notable shift in architectural history and criticism. Opinions regarding architectural avant-gardes of the 1960s, including Team 10, Archigram, Super Studio, Yona Friedman, and Metabolism, have changed considerably if subtly in recent years. Megastructural projects arising from these avant-garde movements were often dismissed in the past as technological fantasies and politically naïve ideas about social progress, or, more critically, as authoritarian gestures to control the development of architecture and society with a fixed set of urban design concepts executed at an inhuman scale. Recent historic accounts fix these architectural and urban experiments back in their respective historic contexts, and view these radical ideas and projects more as alternatives to rigid mainstream modernism on one hand, and nostalgic postmodernism and New Urbanism on the other.[28] The renewed interest in the Metabolist movement and the effort of preserving Nagakin Capsule Tower prompt us to re-examine the legacies of this movement and what they mean to contemporary practices of design and conservation.

Continuity through Transformation: a New Attitude toward Historic Preservation

The drastically different opinions of the architectural professionals and the property owners regarding the Nakagin Capsule Tower’s future reflect a profound conflict between the values of a cultural elite and the logics of local market economies. The Tokyo real estate market and Japanese urban culture have intensified this conflict, and created distinct conservation practices. For instance, because of the financial disadvantage of keeping a historic building on its original site as a physical archive, some valuable historic structures in Japan have been relocated to remote sites to create open-air architectural museums. Meiji Village is one such open-air museum. Located about fifteen miles outside Nagoya, Meiji Village has gathered over sixty historic buildings from Japan’s Meiji (1868-1912), Taisho (1912-1926), and early Showa (1926-1989) periods, which are rearranged in a landscaped setting. Among these buildings is the lobby of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel. No plan for this kind of open-air museum, however, has been developed for the conservation of post-WWII modern architecture.

Also notable is the relative silence of the public agents in the heated debate regarding the future of the tower. Although the Japanese government and the UNESCO World Heritage can intervene to save a modern building, no government agency or NGO has taken action to date.[29] Japan has been known for its great system of National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties, which manifests the nation’s dedication to preserving cultural artifacts.[30] While one could speculate that a failure to understand the historic value of Kurokawa’s building could influence the government’s indifference to its conservation, a more likely explanation for the lack of official interest lies in the character of modern Japanese cities and in the Japanese understanding of cultural heritage. Japanese cities like Tokyo are notorious for their extraordinary pace of change. As John Thackara observes, “[In Japan] buildings are designed in the expectation not that they will stand the test of time but that they will be torn down sooner rather than later and replaced by something more appropriate to the economic and technological demands of the future.”[31] As a result, Tokyo remains a “brand new” city: most of its buildings were built or rebuilt after World War II and, according to the statistics, it continues to replace roughly 30 percent of its structures every ten years.[32]

Contributing to this attitude toward historical preservation is an acceptance of constant transformation of the physical environment, which has been absorbed into Japanese consciousness. Japanese culture has evolved with this notion of impermanence. This notion has been represented in its ultimate form through an extraordinary practice of periodic reconstruction of Ise Shrine. Every twenty years, the main sanctuary of this Shinto shrine is torn down and a new one is built on an immediately adjacent site in an almost identical form. This ritual reconstruction, known as shikinen-zokan, was initiated over 1300 years ago to express the deepest ideas of Shintoism, a faith in the necessity of periodic renewal following the law of Nature.[33] The historic continuity is paradoxically preserved through such symbolic rebuilding which celebrates the idea of transformation and regeneration.

The awareness of a paradoxical relationship between transformation and continuity influenced the Metabolists as well as other Japanese architects. This particular Japanese context is manifest in a book on Ise written by Tange and Kawazoe in 1962 entitled Ise: Prototype of Japanese Architecture, which called for reinterpretation of Ise’s traditional principle in modern design. Responding to the contemporary urban conditions characterized by rapid expansion and unpredictable change, the Metabolists moved away from the Modernist approach to planning. Rather than providing a Modernist machinic layout of the city’s development, the Metabolists called for patterns “which can be followed consistently from present into the distant future.”[34] In fact, when the biological concept of “metabolism” was introduced to Japan, it was translated as shinchin taisha. This Japanese phrase not only carries the physiological meaning that it has in English, but also embodies the idiomatic meaning of “out with the old, in with the new” in the Chinese and Japanese languages. It refers to a broader sense of transformation not only related to animals or human bodies, but also associated with the world at large. Therefore it is not surprising that the architects chose this term as their manifesto, because from their point of view, architecture and city could only be sustained through constant renewal – a process, they believed, as important as metabolism to an organism.

The same notion of continuity through transformation influences the Japanese attitude toward historic conservation. As historian Nyozekan Hasegawa argues, the importance of tradition in Japan “lies not so much in preserving the cultural properties of the past as in giving shape to contemporary culture; not in the retention of things as they were, but in the way certain … qualities inherent in them live on in the contemporary culture.”[35] Kurokawa’s proposal to preserve the Nakagin Capsule Tower speaks to this attitude. Through the replacement of capsules, the architect challenges the prevalent Western concept of heritage founded on an understanding of the monument as permanent object fixed in time and specific to site. Should Kurokawa’s renovation plan be carried out and the capsules be replaced, it could disqualify the building as an architectural heritage in the Western sense, as it would no longer be original. In Japan, however, this transformation of the Tower would conform to the understanding of heritage based in the belief that eternity is sustained by change.

Three Metabolist Urban Paradigms

While most Metabolist projects adopted a megastructural strategy, two alternative paradigms of urban design also arose within the Metabolist movement: Fumihiko Maki’s idea of “group form” and Arata Isozaki’s concept of “ruins.” Sharing the notion of the city as process instead of artifact, the ideas of megastructure, group form, and ruins all address Japan’s constantly changing urban environment from different perspectives, and each has had an impact on contemporary urbanism.

With another Metabolist Masato Otaka, Maki introduced the concept of “group form” in the essay “Towards the Group Form” published in the Metabolist manifesto. Maki was critical of the utopian idea of megastructure and proposed group form as an alternative, which he defined more coherently in his Investigations in Collective Form published in 1964.[36] In contrast to megastructure’s hierarchical organization prioritizing the major structure over individual units, Maki suggested that order should arise from grouping individual elements together. Such order is based on the relationship between part and whole as often seen in the formation of vernacular settlements like Italian hill towns, North African villages, and Japanese linear villages: individual units are generative elements defined by a prototype, which determines the general character of the ensemble. Group form allows the ensemble to grow and renew itself without affecting its general character as the system maintains a dynamic equilibrium. The emphasis of design therefore shifts from a physical structure to a perceptual order underlying the evolution of the city.

Maki contended that group form would create a flexible urban system more responsive to the fluctuating conditions of contemporary society. In contrast to conventional top-down planning, group form encourages cumulative growth that results in a non-hierarchical collective image. The Hillside Terrace, arguably the most engaging urban project in Maki’s career, provides a remarkable example of this idea. [Fig. 17] Commissioned by the Asakura family, the project is in fact a series consists of mixed residential, commercial, and cultural uses that stretch along Kyu-Yamate Avenue in Tokyo’s Daikanyama district. Since the design of the first increment in 1967, the project continued to grow for thirty years, progressing through seven stages.[37] Each stage of the development emerged from the pattern set by previous designs but distinguished itself by reflecting revisions of planning regulations, developments of technology, changing consciousness of the architect, and the shifting character of the urban context as Daikanyama evolved from a quiet residential area to a bustling commercial district. Hillside Terrace thus constitutes “group form at its most dynamic, growing and evolving organically over time.”[38] An open system with a certain degree of ambiguity, the ensemble responds to uncertainty and celebrates the aesthetic of transformation. As the project grows, group form is able to accommodate new additions and changes, but each stage remains complete in its own form. In Maki’s point of view, such a cumulative townscape has become the essential character of Tokyo and suggests a new urbanity for the contemporary city.


Isozaki’s concept of “ruins,” a more radical Metabolist response to Japanese culture and urban context, referred to the state of a city after a catastrophe. Isozaki did not become a formal member of the Metabolist group, but he was a proponent of the Metabolist ideas and a frequent collaborator of Tange and the Metabolists. Although Isozaki shared the Metabolists’ enthusiasm for megastructural form and futurist technology, he disagreed with their optimistic views that the development of a city is a continuous process and that urban growth and transformation are more or less predictable and thus can be planned, structured, and controlled. On the contrary, Isozaki contended that sudden catastrophic ruptures could occur in the development of urban society. He first presented this idea of ruins in a photomontage entitled “Incubation Process” in 1962, included in an exhibition featuring the Metabolism.[39] [Fig. 18] The montage was characterized by his 1960 Joint-Core System project, with the image of this futuristic city superimposed on a picture of classical ruins. Fragments of giant Doric orders were recycled and became the base of a cluster of megastructures anchored by a strip of urban freeway. Through this montage, Isozaki argued that metamorphosis would be both destructive and constructive and, as a result, human society would repeatedly cycle between city and ruins: “In the incubation process, ruins are the future state of our city, and the future city itself will be ruins.”[40] Representing an ironic and somewhat pessimistic attitude toward the modern city, Isozaki’s concept of city/ruins has proven to be prophetic. It is particularly telling when we are confronted with the possible destruction of Nakagin Capsule Tower and other Metabolist buildings. Moreover, the recent great earthquake, tsunami, and resulting nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, Japan in March 2011, with its severe impact on Tokyo’s infrastructure, indicated how vulnerable the contemporary city is in the face of natural or man-made disasters. Ruins stand as the counter state of a city and continue to remind us of the destructive forces existing within it.


The three Metabolist paradigms – megastructure, group form, and ruins – have provoked substantial resonance as well as ample criticism since they were conceptualized in the 1960s. A complete account of the influence of these paradigms is outside of the scope of this article. However, I would like to place each paradigm in a wider context, and summarize their distinct impacts in the interest of situating the particular legacy of the Nakagin Capsule Tower.

Kenzo Tange’s spectacular Tokyo Bay Plan aroused a new wave of excitement of “Make no small plans,” as much as Daniel Burnham’s Plan of Chicago in 1909 and Le Corbusier’s Ville Contemporaine in 1922. Radical concepts of megastructure, such as plug-in, spatial city, mobility, system and capsule, were widely circulated among visionary architects, including Yona Friedman, Moshe Safdie, Paul Rudolph, and Archigram members such as Peter Cook and Ron Herron. Numerous speculative projects in the 1960s showed that the Metabolists and Western avant-garde architects influenced each other. Most of these projects, however powerful and provocative, remained fantasies. Hampered by technical limitations, even the few built works, such as Safdie’s Habitat ’67 and Tange’s Yamanashi Press and Broadcasting Center, can be rather clumsy and inflexible. They fell short of their promise to bring new ideas to the mass market and failed to influence conventional architectural practice.

Architectural critics and social activists reacted to the authoritarian implications of megastructure. In an article published in Architectural Design in 1964, Peter Smithson attacked Tange’s Tokyo Bay Plan not only for its impracticality and the cost of its rigid spatial organization and circulation system – he claimed that the gigantic interlocking loop highway system was redundant – but also for the political implications of this hierarchical form. He wrote: “Whatever may be explained, it is, above all, centralized, absolutist, authoritarian… somehow it has crept in at all levels – into its basic thinking, into its organization, and residually, into its imagery – for only the natural sensitivity of its designers has taken the hard edge off its ruthlessness.”[41] This overwhelming sense of order described by Smithson is one of the reasons that megastructural plans, when attempts were made to realize them, often caused social disturbance and anxiety. In a case much like Paul Rudolph’s Lower Manhattan Expressway, Tange’s 1966 plan for Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco encountered strong resistance by local resident associations and activists and was eventually abandoned.[42]

It was not until the 1980s that such large-scale mega-projects with less ambitious social agendas and more flexible layouts were reintroduced in a number of regions in the world. Many of them emerged during Japan’s “Bubble Economy” in the eighties and involved massive reclamations on Tokyo Bay, such as Tokyo Teleport Town and Yokohama Minato Mirai 21.[43] [Fig. 19] Metabolism’s model of urban process, compelling imagery of large-scale urban interventions, and strategies for enabling for growth at a massive scale were evident in most of these projects.


Maki’s idea of group form, although it never became a dominant model of design, has remained profoundly influential in practice. Giving priority to individual elements over the system and a sensory order over a material one, the concept of group form found much in common with Dutch Structuralism led by Aldo van Eyck, one of Team 10 members. Both Maki and van Eyck were inspired by vernacular human settlements and tried to transform their informal order into contemporary urbanism by establishing a reciprocal relationship between part and whole, small and large, and house and city.[44] Van Eyck’s Amsterdam Orphanage and Hermann Hertzberger’s Central Beheer are two buildings emblematic of this reciprocal relationship across scales as a defining tactic of a group form design strategy. Maki’s theory also contributed to a new contextual and situational attitude toward architecture and city, which arose in Japan and the West during the 1970s and crystallized in Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter’s Collage City.[45] Instead of imposing a comprehensive framework to regulate urban expansion and transformation, group form called for recognizing and respecting preexisting urban texture and stressed a city’s inherent process of natural renewal as a template for new design interventions.

Finally, Isozaki’s concept of ruins provided a polemical metaphor critical of the progressive ambition and faith in technology that had by then dominated the modernist approach to architecture. Based on this idea, Isozaki’s late work like Tsukuba Science City of 1983 tended to engage history in a paradoxical manner and was shaped by a serene melancholy of decay and death. The metaphoric representation of ruins inspired iconoclastic architects throughout the world. In particular, Isozaki’s discourse played an important part in the development of postmodernism in the 1970s and 1980s. Although these historical metaphors and references helped Isozaki and the postmodernists break the predicament of postwar modernism, it soon turned into a straightjacket itself, with a narrow focus on the formal narrative of architecture. Nevertheless, on the urban scale, the idea of ruins continues to remind architects of the ephemeral character of the contemporary city and reinforces a contemporary understanding of the city as a process or event rather than a collection of artifacts. Current interest in the “dematerialized” as a response to the growing influence of new electronic and digital technologies, seeks to melt the boundary between the real and the virtual in much the same manner as Isozaki’s 1962 montage.[46]

Conclusion: the Legacy of the Nagakin Capsule Tower

For the most part, Metabolist theory does not play a prominent role in architectural discourse nowadays. However, the dynamics engaged by the Metabolist urban paradigms are still profoundly influential in the transformation of contemporary cities. Their impact is demonstrated in the urban landscapes of many Asian cities like Tokyo, which are shaped by the various agendas of public agents, planners, architects, and local residents and organizations, as well as the flow of capital and pressures of globalization. These cities can hardly be identified as coherent entities. They are often characterized by a juxtaposition of different patterns of urban intervention such as super-block projects, giant office towers, labyrinthine traditional neighborhoods, shopping streets, and ghettos of minorities or migrant workers. The cities often appear chaotic, but such chaos often embodies a sophisticated and dynamic order as these immense urban complexes continuously transform and regenerate – like an organism.[47] In this sense, “metabolism” remains a provocative term to describe the current urban condition, especially when its Japanese meaning “out with the old, in with the new” is considered. The Nakagin Capsule Tower proves to be a prime example of such dynamism, tensions, and options facing Japanese cities.

To a great extent, the crisis of the Nakagin Capsule Tower was created by these forces of urban regeneration, which has previously led to the demolition of Tange’s old Tokyo City Hall, Kikutake’s Sofitel Tokyo, and Kuorkawa’s Sony Tower in Osaka. Economic globalization has accelerated the pace of urban change in Asian megacities, and repeated destruction and construction has become part of the everyday urban landscape, which to a certain extent resembles Isozaki’s prophetic imagery of metamorphosis between a city and ruins. Indeed, the immediate context of Nakagin Capsule Tower has changed dramatically since it was built in 1972, with many parcels updated in the last decade. Under such development pressure, an innovative approach to conservation has to be sought, since neither the Western approach to preservation, with its desire for stasis, or the typically Japanese solution of a complete relocation, are feasible. At this moment the Tower remains, having withstood the severe earthquake of March 2011. Its development plans is on hold as a consequence of the global recession, but its future remains uncertain.

The Nakagin Capsule Tower represents a significant historical moment in postwar architecture. Its design embodies the Metabolists’ urban and social ideals: a city of mobility and flexibility, and a system adapted to the needs of a fast-paced, constantly changing society. The building celebrates the idea of interchangeablity and flexibility through the capsule, and its history reflects the rise and fall of Metabolism’s technological utopias and the transformation of Japan’s urban culture since the early 1970s. The Tower thus stands as a living fossil offering a comprehensive lesson in the success and failure of postwar avant-gardes. A flawed yet compelling prototype, it was designed and built in response to the emergence of a modern megacity and the rapid transformation of a technological society. It has become a bridge connecting the urban visions of the postwar avant-gardes to contemporary architectural culture.

However, the value of Nakagin Capsule Tower goes beyond its historic role as an alternative to the static paradigms of Modernist architecture and urbanism. The building, and the Metabolist movement it represents, has affinities to issues that shape our present and future. The Metabolist urban paradigmns–Megastructure’s technological optimism, the iterative flexibility of group form, and Isozaki’s ephemeral ruins–emphasized the necessity of cultivating new relationships between form, technology, and urban life in a manner that moves across scale to link architecture and urban design. These Metabolist urbanisms represented a body of powerful and original ideals that continue to stimulate bold visions of the contemporary city. Concepts such as “metabolic city,” “artificial terrain,” “marine city,” “living cell,” “capsule,” and “group form” have been appropriated by contemporary architects addressing the massive urban transformations and the global climate change of the 21st century.[48] In this sense, Metabolism invented a new sensibility for the contemporary architectural culture. Therefore, the preservation of the Nakagin Capsule Tower is about more than the rescue of a historic artifact, or an indulgence in utopian nostalgia. Rather, the building is emblematic of a prophetic vision of the contemporary city and its processes, and this represents its most compelling legacy.



The author would like to thank the editors of the Journal of Architectural Education and the anonymous referees, who provided valuable comments to improve this paper. Professor Thordis Arrhenius also provided inputs to the earlier version of this paper.



[1] Yuki Solomon, “Kurokawa’s Capsule Tower to be Razed,” Architectural Record 195, n.6 (June 2007): 34. The report first appeared on http://archrecord.construction.com on Apr. 30, 2007.

[2] The building withstood the recent earthquake on March 11, 2011. However, there is always concern that the Tower would not survive a stronger earthquake closer to Tokyo.

[3] Details of the proposed design were not revealed. The project was currently put on hold because of the lack of available financing after the worldwide economic recession in 2008.

[4] Günter Nitschke, “Tokyo: ‘Olympic Planning’ versus ‘Dream Planning’,” Architectural Design 34 (Oct. 1964): 482-508; and “The Metabolists of Japan,” Architectural Design 34 (Oct. 1964): 509-524. Reyner Banham, Megastructure: Urban Futures of the Recent Past (New York: Harper & Row, 1976).

[5] Ibid, 9.

[6] The RIBA named Archigram the Royal Gold Medalists in 2002. RIBA president David Rock wrote about this decision: “Archigram is a marvellously fitting choice for a Royal Gold Medal for the beginning of the 21st century, with the message and mixture of enthusiasm, optimism, debunking, imagination, harnessing awareness of the boundary-breaking realities of the sciences and arts outside, or on the edge of, architecture. While part of history, Archigram’s messages can be interpreted for the future.”

[7] The recent publications on the megastructural movements include: Peter Lang and William Menking, eds., Superstudio: Life Without Objects (Milan: Skira, 2003); Simon Sadler, Archigram: Architecture without Architecture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005); Larry Busbea, Topologies: The Urban Utopia in France, 1960-1970 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007); Hadas Steiner, Beyond Archigram: The Structure of Circulation (London: Routledge, 2008); and Zhongjie Lin, Kenzo Tange and the Metabolist Movement: Urban Utopias of Modern Japan (London: Routledge, 2010). A book comprising of interviews with the Metabolism and edited by Rem Koolhaas and Hans Ulbrist is forthcoming. In 2008, an exhibition entitled “Megastructure Reloaded” was held in Berlin. Heather Woofter curated an exhibition called “Metabolic Cities” at the Kemper Museum of Washington University in St. Luis in 2009, featuring the works of Archigram, Metabolism, and the Situationalist International. Another exhibition on Metabolism will open at Mori Museum in Tokyo in 2011.

[8] Kiyonori Kikutake et al, Metabolism: The Proposals for New Urbanism (Tokyo: Bijutsu shūpansha, 1960).

[9] Ibid, 3.

[10] The National Capital Region Development Plan, published by Tokyo Metropolitan Government in 1958, was inspired by Patrick Abercrombie’s 1944 concept for London. It proposed creating a green belt around Tokyo’s center city and a number of satellite cities outside of the green belt to absorb Tokyo’s population growth and industrial expansion. Tange counteracted this radiant plan with a linear concept, envisioning a megastructural city extending from the existing urban core across Tokyo Bay to reach Chiba prefecture on the opposite side. For details see Zhongjie Lin, “Urban Structure for the Expanding Metropolis: Kenzo Tange’s 1960 Plan for Tokyo,” Journal of Architectural & Planning Research 24:2 (Summer 2007): 109-124.

[11] In Japan, the 1970 Osaka Expo was regarded as a swansong of megastructural projects. Architectural historian Wilhelm Klauser observed that Tange’s mega-roof for the main pavilion at Osaka Expo, which had elicited praise of many critics for its dimensions and its concept of uniting peoples of the world under one roof, was later viewed by Japanese architects as strangely dated because “its form had evidently been inspired by those very chemical plants, refineries, and shipping lines whose significance was rapidly declining after 1973.” Wilhelm Klauser, “Introduction: Rules and Identities,” in Christopher Knabe and Joerg Rainer Noennig ed., Shaking the Foundation: Japanese Architects in Dialogue (Munich: Prestel, 1999), 12. Also see Zhongjie Lin, “From Osaka to Shanghai: Forty Years of Transformation of the World Expositions,” Time + Architecture 2011, n.1: 18-23.

[12] Banham, 7.

[13] Ibid, 47, 57.

[14] Ibid, 45.

[15] Jin Hidaka, “Nakagin Capsule Tower Building,” ( Tokyo: International Union of Architects 2011 Congress), Congress Circular, 2008.

[16] In fact, a surprising number of professionals, including travel agents, accountants and architects, moved in after the building was completed and used the capsules as their business spaces. Hiroshi Watanabe, The Architecture of Tokyo (Stuttgart/London: Edition Axel Menges, 2001), 148.

[17] Noriaki Kurokawa, “Challenge to the Capsule: Nakagin Capsule Tower Building,” Japan Architect 47 (Oct. 1972): 17.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Charles Jencks, The Language of Post-Modern Architecture (London: Academy Editions, 1977), 40.

[20] Watanabe, Ibid.

[21] Botand Bognar, “What Goes Up, Must Come Down,” Harvard Design Magazine 3 (Fall 1997): 35.

[22] Kurokawa died of heart failure on October 12, 2007.

[23] Kisho Kurokawa, “Recent Situation about Nakagin Capsule Tower,” Kisho Kurokawa’s website, May 30, 2006, http://www.kisho.co.jp (accessed Aug. 9, 2009).

[24] “Nakagin Tower WAN Poll Result,” World Architecture News, Sep. 23, 2005, accessed Aug. 9, 2009, http://www.worldarchitecturenews.com/index.php?fuseaction=wanappln.projectview&upload_id=162

[25] Ibid.

[26] Audio representation of the exhibition “Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling,” Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, July 20-Oct. 20, 2008. The Pompidou Center also announced its plan to prepare an exhibition on Japanese Architecture, and a real capsule from Nakagin building, should it be demolished, would be featured at the exhibition. Furthermore, a circular has been distributed by the Twenty-fourth World Congress of Architecture (UIA), to be held in Tokyo in 2011, calling for “reconsideration of the Metabolism Model.” Hidaka, ibid.

[27] Nicolai Ouroussoff, “Future Vision Banished to the Past,” New York Times, July 6, 2009.

[28] Several recent historic accounts have demonstrated this trend: Hadas Steiner, ibid; Larry Busbea, ibid; Simon Sadler, ibid; Peter Lang and William Menking, ibid; Max Risselada and Dirk van den Heuvel eds. Team 10, 1953-81: In Search of Utopia of the Present (Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 2006); and Cherie Wendelken, “Putting Metabolism Back in Place: The Making of a Radically Decontextualized Architecture in Japan,” in Sarah Williams Goldhagen and Rejean Legault, eds., Anxious Modernism: Experimentation in Postwar Architectural Culture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000), 279-300.

[29] DoCoMoMo Japan pleaded for the United Nations’ heritage arm to protect Nakagin building, but it did not succeed. Hidaka, ibid.

[30] The Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties began being enforced in Japan in 1950. As of 2009, there are 862 National Treasures in the arts and crafts category and 210 in the structures category. In addition, there are 9,435 Important Cultural Properties in the arts and crafts category and 2,205 in the structures category. Database of National Cultural Properties, http://www.bunka.go.jp/bsys/index.asp (accessed Aug. 9, 2009).

[31] John Thackara, “In Tokyo they shimmer, chatter and vanish,” The Independent (London), Sep. 25, 1991, 12.

[32] Bognar, 35.

[33] Ise Shrine’s ritualistic and performative rebuilding is said to have started in 685 C.E. The period of rebuilding was a little in flux in the past. In early times, it was nineteen years; and due to turmoil in the middle ages, there occurred a complete interruption of more than one hundred years. Later it was officially set at 20 years. It is believed that the period of around 20 years is predicated on the life span of building. Some also say it may be the time needed for passing down the necessary carpentry techniques. The last rebuilding happened in 1993, the sixty-first on record. Arata Isozaki, Japan-ness in Architecture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006), 131, 323.

[34] Noboru Kawazoe, “City of the Future,” Zodiac 9 (1961): 100.

[35] Nyozekan Hasegawa, The Japanese Character, trans. John Bestor (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1965), 101-102.

[36] Fumihiko Maki, Investigations in Collective Form (St. Louis: Washington University, 1964). This book introduces three prototypes of collective urban forms: compositional form (referring to the conventional method of composition based on a two-dimensional plane), megastructure, and the group form. Investigations in Collective Form is remarkable for a few reasons, first and foremost of which is its status as the first written work to define the concept of megastructure (Maki’s definition is used by Reyner Banham in his book), but the emphasis of Maki’s book is on the group form.

[37] The Hillside Terrace includes Hillside Stage I, 1967-69; Hillside Stage II, 1971-73; Hillside Stage III, 1975-77; Hillside Stage IV, 1985 (by Motokura Makoto, who previously worked in Maki’s office); Hillside Stage V, 1987; Hillside Stage VI, 1992; and the Royal Danish Embassy that was built in 1979 on one of the parcels originally owned by the Asakura family, also designed by Maki. In 1998, Maki designed Hillside West for a site only a short distance from Hillside Terrace. It continued the rhythm of development of the preceding series. For details see Jennifer Taylor, The Architecture of Fumihiko Maki: Space, City, Order and Making (Basel: Birkhäuser, 2003), 132-138.

[38] Taylor, 26.

[39] Such notion of “ruins” was also presented in Isozaki’s short essay written in 1962 entitled “The City Demolisher, Inc,” taking the form of a dialogue between “Arata” and “Shin.” The essay contrasted a passion for city-design and a quasi-Dadaistic desire for city deconstruction. Arata Isozaki, “The City Demolisher, Inc.” Kukan he [Toward Space] (Tokyo: Bijutsu Shuppansha, 1971), 11-20.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Peter Smithson, “Reflections on Kenzo Tange’s Tokyo Bay Plan,” Architectural Design (Oct. 1964): 479-480.

[42] For a study of Kenzo Tange’s Yerba Buena project, see Kuang Shi, Gary Hack, and Zhongjie Lin, Urban Design in the Global Perspective (Beijing: China Architecture & Building Press, 2006), 112-122.

[43] For a detailed discussion of current mega-projects in the Tokyo Bay area, see Zhongjie Lin, “From Megastructure to Megalopolis: Formation and Transformation of Mega-projects in Tokyo Bay,” Journal of Urban Design 12 (Feb. 2007): 73-92.

[44] Van Eyck studied primitive dwelling forms in central Africa, and developed the theory of “configurative discipline,” suggesting that such a reciprocal relationship between part and whole reinforces the identities of each other. Aldo van Eyck, “Steps toward a Configurative Discipline,” Forum 16, no. 3 (1962): 81-94.

[45] Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter, Collage City (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1978).

[46] Bognar observes that many recent designs are characterized by “lightness, surface, fragmentation, and dissolution,” as demonstrated in concepts like Maki’s “cloud-like formations,” Toyo Ito’s “spaces of flows,” and Shigeru Ban’s “paper architecture.” Bognar, 38.

[47] Rem Koolhaas observed that in Tokyo, “chaos is not only well documented and understood, but that it has already become an object for consumption… There, where intelligence meets masochism, chaos had rapidly become the dominant leitmotif of architecture and urbanism.” Rem Koolhaas, “Urbanism after Innocence: Four Projects,” Assemblage 18 (Aug. 1992): 94. In Maki’s view, the order of a city could reside in the seemingly chaotic scenes; it was the task of planners to reveal the order by providing a conceivable organization or, in Kevin Lynch’s terminology, the imaginability of the city. Fumihiko Maki, Movement Systems in the City (Cambridge: Graduate School of Design, Harvard University, MA, 1965): 11.

[48] One of such examples is the NOAH project for New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, featuring an eco-friendly megastructure floating on Mississippi River to accommodate 20,000 residential units and supporting facilities Yuka Yoneda, “NOAH: Mammoth Pyramid Megacity for New Orleans,” Aug. 19, 2009, last accessed June 4, 2011, http://inhabitat.com/noah-mammoth-pyramidal-arcology-designed-for-new-orleans/,


1 Comment

  1. David B. Stewart says

    Hi Zhongzie,
    Very glad to read this article about Nakagin Capsule Tower. It now seems that it will probably be saved.
    I hope you saw our MOOC on “Modern Japanese Architecture” on the edX platform. The course
    has finished for now but will be offered again in the autumn I believe. Meanwhile, Tokyo U are to
    launch a MOOC about the work of their own graduates, also on EdX.

    Best wishes to all at UNCC !


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