Modular Thinking: Kisho Kurokawa


Kisho Kurokawa’s vision of postwar Japan was both modern and sustainable.

After studying under Kenzo Tange at the University Of Tokyo, he and a few colleagues founded the Metabolist Movement in 1960. They largely followed the ‘megastructure’ form that was gaining popularity with architects and planners at the time, sharing the belief that megastructures should be modular, capable of extension and have a framework into which smaller elements could be ‘plugged’ or replaced. 

One of the most recognisable landmarks of the Metabolist architectural movement (and perhaps Kurokawa's best known work) is Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo. Built between 1970 and 1972 in the Ginza district, the tower was originally marketed to traveling businessmen that worked in the city during the week. 140 individual units are stacked and rotated at varying angles around a central core, standing 14-stories high. The pods can be connected and combined to create larger spaces for families. Each capsule is connected to one of the two main shafts only by four high-tension bolts and is designed to be replaceable. 

An iconic design but sadly flawed. The capsules were intended to be replaced every 25 years but none ever have been due to the costs. It turned out it would be cheaper to knock the building down and start again than it would to replace them. Many of the units have been abandoned due to their poor condition and demolition has loomed for several years, whilst architects around the world campaign for it's preservation.

Nicolai Ouroussoff, architecture critic for The New York Times, described the tower as "gorgeous architecture; like all great buildings, it is the crystallisation 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."