In the city of Tokyo, a building stands as an anachronism in relation to the surrounding urban landscape. The building in question is the Nakagin Capsule Tower designed by Kisho Kurokawa (1934 – 2007), one of the founders of an influential architectural movement in the 1960s called Metabolism. The movement’s aim was to formulate flexible designs that facilitate continual growth and renewal of architecture. As the first capsule apartment in history constructed for everyday use, the Nakagin Capsule Tower is considered the most ambitious attempt in implementing the principles of Metabolism. Kurokawa attached the building with 140 removable capsules to promote modifications to the structure over time, theoretically improving its capacity to adjust to the rapidly changing conditions of the post-industrial society. When the building first opened in March of 1972, it was advertised in the media to signal “the dawn of the capsule age.” At the time, Kurokawa had additional capsule projects planned in the coming years and predicted the mass production of these living units.
This prototype for a new lifestyle for the 21st Century ultimately proved to be an exception rather than the rule. The Nakagin Capsule Tower in fact became the last of its kind completed in the world. Furthermore, the building has never undergone the process of regeneration during the 40 years of existence. None of the original capsules have ever been replaced, even though Kurokawa intended them to sustain a lifespan of only 25 years. As the capsules accumulate patina on their shells through the passage of time, they exist as a reminder of a future imagined to be possible at that moment in Japan as well as a future that never came.
Now considered an obsolete model of living, the Nakagin Capsule Tower faces the threat of demolition to make way for a conventional apartment complex on the site. This photographic series investigates the building as it faces an uncertain fate. It is a response to the building’s potential disappearance as a tangible piece of cultural memory in the landscape of Tokyo. The camera engages this singular presence in the city in order to explore the history of the capsules since 1972 and the current condition of this vision of the future from the past. Furthermore, this project attempts to relate this impulse to document what is about to pass to the very origins of the photographic apparatus as a modern invention that developed out of the desire to fix an image in permanence as a form of evidence. This investigation on the Nakagin Capsule Tower is also a reflection on the photographic medium employed in capturing the space and its distinct ability to address temporality in the world.