Nakagin Capsule Tower could be spared from demolition

According to Jiji Press, the Nakagin Capsule Tower apartment building, a surviving icon of Japan’s metabolism movement in the 1970s, may soon have a savior in the form of a foreign corporation that is looking to acquire the land rights.

The 140-capsule condo was built in 1972 and designed by Kisho Kurokawa. It is now a must-see designation for architecture fans visiting Tokyo. As many as 250 Japanese and foreigners attend hosted capsule tours each month.

The structure consists of two concrete cores containing the elevator shafts and stairwells. The 140 capsules, which were built off-site, are each connected to the core shaft by four high-tension bolts. The capsules were designed to be removable and interchangeable, although none of the capsules have been removed to date.

The compact capsules, each just 10 sqm (108 sq.ft) in size, were designed as a city crash-pad for business people. When the capsules went on sale in the 1970s, they were priced at around 3.4 million Yen each. All capsules had sold out within 6 months. The capsules came with eight different interior options including built-in storage units with built-in beds, stereos, and fold-out tables, a circular window with custom-made lens-type blinds and an option for it to be openable.

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, capsules were selling for as much as 20 ~ 25 million Yen each. In 2012 and 2013 they were going for as little as 2 ~ 3 million Yen each and bringing in gross yields of up to 20%. In recent years several have appeared on the market for 8 ~ 9 million Yen, while rents can fetch 45,000 ~ 70,000 Yen per month. 

Unlike the vast majority of real estate in Tokyo, this condo was built on leasehold land, with the land owned by the original developer of the building. The leasehold expires in 2032. In June 2018 the land was sold to a recently established limited liability company. That company promptly informed the capsule owners association of their intent to redevelop the site. The new landowner also expressed that they would not approve any future capsule sales. Since the land is registered under the ‘chinshaku-ken’ style of leasehold rather than the newer superficies style, apartment owners must get the landowner’s approval in order to transfer the land leasehold rights when re-selling an apartment.

Capsule owners, many of whom actively support and promote the preservation of the building, were dealt a serious setback. The head of the Nakagin Capsule Tower Preservation and Regeneration Project approached a foreign corporation with experience in preserving historic buildings, asking if they would consider purchasing the land. Discussions are reportedly progressing with a decision expected later this year. 

Source: Jiji Press, July 29, 2019.

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