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Time Is Running Out for Tokyo’s Nakagin Capsule Tower

The famous example of Japanese Metabolist architecture was headed for demolition—but a reprieve may be on the horizon.
The Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo, pictured in 2009.
The Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo, pictured in 2009.Thomas White/Reuters

In the densely packed Tokyo neighborhood of Shinbashi, one building stands out from all the others: the 13-story Nakagin Capsule Tower, completed in 1972. Its two stacks of small metal capsules, each with a signature round window, look more like a collection of washing machines than an apartment complex. Simultaneously retro and futuristic, the tower is a departure from the area’s mix of nondescript residential buildings and sleek offices.

Yet as the 2020 Summer Olympics approaches, the fate of the unique building—located in a bustling business district—hangs in the balance. Last year, a limited-liability company bought the land under the tower (which is a condominium) from the original developer and announced its intention to redevelop it, and said it would prohibit future sales of capsules, which it can do under Japanese law. Then, last month, the news agency Jiji Press reported that a foreign company was in negotiations to acquire the land rights and possibly save the tower.