A Tokyo apartment building with removable units straight outta The Fifth Element

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Apartment hunters, meet the Nakagin Capsule highrise apartment building in Tokyo.

Photo courtesy Arcspace.

The 140-unit apartment building, built in 1972, has fallen into disrepair and faces demolition. It’s a tragic building: its innovative design has led to its neglect.

Photo courtesy Arcspace.

Kisho Kurokawa designed the building to be ever-updatable: each apartment is bolted to a central beam so entire units could easily be removed, updated, and replaced over the building’s lifetime. They could also be combined into larger units. However, none of the units have been updated since the tower was built, and now residents are fleeing the squalid, cramped halls.

Photo courtesy Arcspace.

The apartments were designed for Tokyo salarymen, traveling into the city each week for work. Their appliances, beds, and bathrooms were specially built.

Photo courtesy Arcspace.

And they look exactly like Bruce Willis’ apartment in The Fifth Element.

Courtesy Tokyo Times.

Many residents expand their apartment storage by keeping personal items in the hallways.

Courtesy Tokyo Times.

I hope it can be saved. The concept of the building is intriguing, and I’d love to see it revisited in a contemporary way.

Via Tokyo Times. Read more about the Nakagin tower at Ping Mag and Arcspace.

Comments on A Tokyo apartment building with removable units straight outta The Fifth Element

  1. So THAT’S what that building is! I passed it from time to time when I lived in Yokohama, and always wondered. It’s pretty fabulous, although the apartments look small even by Tokyo standards.

  2. I’m not so sure that’s “Expanding storage”.. I’m pretty sure that’s just the fact that the Japanese don’t wear shoes inside the house, and if there’s no foyer for them to leave them in, they probably just leave them in the halls.

    Obviously I haven’t seen a photo of the outside of every apartment … Maybe someone has their stove out there, for all I know

    • Buddy of mine lived in this total squalor of an apartment building in Japan where people would literally store EVERYTHING they didn’t want inside their apartment in the hallway. It was a complete fire hazard. One day we realized there was an aquarium filled with dead hamsters amongst a pile of take-out curry containers O_o

  3. My husband did a report on this while he was in grad school for Architecture. Apparently, once the building was out of the Architect’s hands, the construction company decided to use a cheaper method, rendering the pods fused to the beam permanently. It is sad that the immediate reward of cheaper construction out-weighed the original reward of a long sustainable design.

    • EDIT: Pods aren’t fused to the beam, they are now just connected in a way, where, if you wanted to remove one, you’d have to remove all pods above it. It would be so expensive (and such a logistical night mare) to do it, that it won’t ever happen.

  4. I’m intrigued by the design but to be honest, I don’t see the practicality nor the improved sustainability of replaceable pod apartments.

    If you’re going to update it by just replacing the flooring or the appliances, I doubt you would go through the effort and expense of removing the entire pod from the structure.

    If you’re going to swap one pod out for another, more modern pod… isn’t that kinda of wasteful? I mean, there would have to be something seriously wrong with your pod to justify that kind of expense. You wouldn’t do it just to run CATV in there.

    And if there were some major defect in the pods, replacing all of them would surely cost as much as tearing down and replacing the building?

    Am I missing something? It’s beautiful to look at but.. what’s the use case for removing a pod?

    • I agree that when you replace a pod, you are definitely generating waste. Also, I agree that replacing all the pods might be just as expensive financially as demo-ing the building.

      However, I think the idea behind this is to look at the physical waste generated by complete demolition and construction.

      Throwing out all the pods would generate a lot of waste, but not as much as the full demo of the entire building and its frame / elevator cores / lobby / parking garage, etc. On top of that, a lot of waste is generated during construction process for a new building; over-ordering materials to account for the fact that a certain percentage will be damaged, mistakes, mis-orders, etc. will all be tossed to the landfill.

      I think the building design was an attempt to ease a wasteful society towards the idea of wasting less (focusing on the overall cost being environmental + financial).

    • The pods were also meant to be transportable, you wanted to move apartment complexes pay to have them haul your apartment pod off to the new tower, the crane that was supposed to be permanently affixed to the tower would then attach your pod to the tower. There were meant to be many more of these complexes, that never got off the ground.

      The idea behind the design was white-washed with some fresh paint when the construction costs caught up with the original idea.

  5. You can actually rent out a capsule at Airbnb – can’t give u a link right now, but if u type in the name of the building, it’s easy to find

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