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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Japanese Metabolism Architecture

The delightful but evasive Alice knows I like Japan and LEGO and buildings that look like they could be made of LEGO.

While the building featured in the image above isn't LEGO, it certainly could be made into a model by designers mores skilled or with a more diverse collection of bricks than I.

This, is one of my all-time favorite buildings (the Chrysler building is #1 in my opinion) that isn't a single home: Tokyo's Nakagin Capsule Tower (中銀カプセルタワー or Nakagin Kapuseru Tawā).

Built in 1972, it is either really ugly, or beautiful in its strangeness when compared to Japan's penchant for a paved over landscape.

I does look like mess of front-loading washing machines or something easily constructed by a LEGO enthusiast with far too much time on his/her hands, but so what?

This was originally conceived to be teeny-tiny apartment living quarters for Japanese business men—a construct that features a total of 140 cubic pods.

Yes... pods... living quarters so small that it certainly helps confirm the Japanese stereotype of small apartments.
Concept art of the bedroom area.

The reality. Organized chaos. Yeah, I'd drink too... This apartment has been retrofitted with a modern furniture... but the reality is, he IS sitting on his bed.
A neater reality than the one above that is obviously owned by a writer. I am also pretty sure that the beds are not built to house the larger-sized gaijin/foreigner. I'm imagining having sex in that room right now with a special someone, and I'm pretty sure that I'm either going to moon Tokyo, or I'm going to have to use the walls for some leverage - plus she's going to have a headache from all of the headbanging - and not the cool kind. Yes... it was designed for the Japanese businessman and not the horny gaijin. 

A montage, showing the Nakagin coolness. The Large door in the center of the lower left photo leads to the outside of the room. The strange-shaped door with the two round vents - that's the bathroom. The image on the lower right... I'm pretty sure that while I thrash around in my sleep (Cobras!) I am going to knock the telephone of its mount and conk myself on the head.    
It was the world's first example of capsule architecture built for permanent and use… which may not sound like a big deal to you or to me, but in architectural terms, it is.

The bathroom. It's Japan... you don't have your shoes on. It seems very functional. You can sit in the tub and soak, or sit on the edge of the tub and wash yourself - which is also why there is a drain under the sink and in front of the toilet - for water spillage. It is not for peeing into... though I suppose every Japanese businessman probably did at some point in time of living there, just to see what would happen. There doesn't seem to be a mirror or medicine cabinet there, but perhaps that is something you add yourself.  
The Nakagin Capsule Tower is an example of Japanese Metabolism. Okay… I have no idea what that means either, but apparently it is an architectural style.

Pronounced in katakana Japanese (which is a phonetic version of English using Japanese alphabet sounds) - メタボリズム (metaborizumu - Metabolism) is a post-war style that meshes buildings with organic biological growth.

Man… I roll my eyes whenever I hear stuff like that.

The art style was actually the brainchild of Japan's Tange Kenzo, who in the 1959 meeting of the Congrès Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne presented two new concepts by Kikutake Kiyonori:
The Tower-shaped City—a 300 metre tall tower that housed the infrastructure for an entire city. It included transportation, services and a manufacturing plant for prefabricated houses. The tower was vertical "artificial land" onto which steel, pre-fabricated dwelling capsules could be attached.
Kikutake proposed that these capsules would undergo self-renewal every fifty years and the city would grow organically like branches of a tree.;

The Sky House—a platform supported on four concrete panels with a hyperbolic paraboloid shell roof. It is a single space divided by storage units with the kitchen and bathroom on the outer edge.[4] These latter two were designed so that they could be moved to suit the use of the house - and indeed they have been moved and/or adjusted about seven times over the course of fifty years. At one point a small children's room was attached to the bottom of main floor with a small child-sized access door between the two rooms.

This was the first exposure of Metabolism concepts to an international audience.

It has been revealed that the concepts of Meatbolism architecture were influenced by Marxists theories and biological processes.

Marxist? Doing my best Groucho impression while waving a cigar in front of my nose: "Y'know, Marxism is the worst thing I ever hoid of."

It sounds better in my head and looks funnier when you see me do it in person, because I can do the Groucho impression well enough.

Anyhow, Kikutake Kiyonori, Kurokawa Kisho and Maki Fumihiko and a few others created a descriptive essay on Metabolism: Ocean City, Space City, Towards Group Form, and Material and Man… the concept obviously included cities floating on the can and plug-in towers for organic growth…hmm, for the later, it's like building cells in bee hives or human-powered batteries like in the Matrix.

Artistically, the concept of capsule buildings seems amazing… but that's only because every other building back in the 1960s and earlier was simply a rectangular box made of steel and glass.

Examples of Japanese Metabolism architecture include:

  • Yamanashi Press and Broadcaster Centre, 1961, by Tange Kenzo.
The Yamanashi Press and Broadcaster Centre.
Built in Kofu, it is one ugly-looking building, in my opinion.The Yamanashi building had to house two news companies and a printing operation, and a cafeteria and shops on the ground floor—and it had to be flexible to allow for future building expansion.
So, for the three main businesses, shared facilities were designed, and stacked vertically according to need.
The printing plant was on the ground floor, which allows street access for loading et al.
Services such as elevators, toilets and pipes were grouped into 16 reinforced concrete cylindrical towers, five meters in diameter each, which was placed on a grid that also included functional group facilities and offices.
These were the flexible containers, that could be moved around and placed anywhere (later) within the facility. Really… you could pop it out, and move it somewhere else on the site where it could, in the future, be better utilized.
By 1974, the building did indeed receive an expansion, as originally planned for, but the design did not start a revolution of such fluid architecture in Japan or globally.
Basically, the design was critiqued for caring more about structure and flexibility than being a building built for people and people comfort. Marxism.

  • The Shizuoka Press and Broadcasting Tower
Shizuoka Press and Broadcasting Tower.

I like this building. Of course, who knows what it's lie on the inside.

Built in 1966, this building used a single core, with Tange designing the building with the offices cantilevered as steel and glass boxes.

  • The Nakagin Capsule Tower - my main reason for writing today, was built in a mere 30 days. Think about that.

It was prefabricated in Shiga-ken, home to the lovely Kristine South while I lived in Japan.
The 140 capsules are plugged into two cores each standing 11 and 13 stories high. Since this was 1972 when it was built, the then-latest hot gadgets built into each unit is pretty damn out-of-date as of 2015.

Made of light steel-welded trusses with steel sheeting mounted onto the reinforced concrete cores, each of the 2.5 meter wide by four meter long capsules features a 1.3 meter diameter round window.
Each unit came with: bed, bathroom, storage cabinets, a color television, clock, fridge and air-conditioner. Options include a stereo system.

So yeah… in 2015, if you were to live there, chances are good you wouldn't have a DVD, Netflix, or possibly even proper digital set-up for a TV, Internet or Landline telephone. But what do you care? You could use a cellphone, and with a tablet or laptop pick up some nearby free WiFi.

Despite being listed as an architectural heritage by DoCoMoMo (the International Working Party for Documentation and Conservation of Buildings, Sites and Neighbourhoods of the Modern Movement) since 1996, the building's own residents voted to tear it down in 2004.

Yikes! It does look like it's in a state of decay, however… I mean, look at all of the water-staining on this future-looking construct. Tsk-tsk.

It has NOT been torn down, however, and still has about 15 people living in the capsule facilities. While many others are in a state of disarray internally, many of the units are being offered up for a daily rental of approximately Y3,000 (US$30).

As for that whole Floating City stuff postulated by Kiyonori Kikutake—it was partially realized when Japan built the Aquapolis - the centerpiece - for the Expo '75 held in Okinawa—an awful-looking monstrosity that looks like a floating oil platform.
Aquapolis - when good concepts turn ugly.

It was 32-meters tall with a 100-meter-square deck, costing Japan Y13-billion.

It remained open as a tourist destination until 1993. In 2000, it was towed to Shanghai and scrapped.

Okay… I have to stop, or I'll suddenly have to tell you what they built in that Floating City location.

Andrew Joseph

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