Tokyo's Nakagin Capsule Tower Tear-Down, Neuromancer's Coffin Hotel Lives Forever
The Nakagin Capsule Tower, an icon of Japan’s architectural avant garde — designed by architect Kisho Kurokawa in 1972 — is destined for demolition.
In the building’s glory days, a staff of “capsule ladies” was on hand to tend to provide secretarial and other services. There are no cooking facilities. The windows are permanently sealed, and the plastic bath-and-toilet unit is about the same size as an airplane loo. Today, some of the capsules still retain the original fittings, including Sony reel-to-reel tape-recorders and dial-up phones.
The original selling price was just ¥5 million JPY (about $46,000 USD today), five times the average salary in 1972. Three quarters of the occupants were young “salaryman” businessmen, as Kurokawa had intended.
As time went by and real estate prices rose, the Nakagin attracted wealthy CEOs and doctors keen to own a fashionable pied-à-terre so close to the Ginza nightlife. Kurokawa himself, and then his son, also an architect, owned a capsule for many years.
Science fiction fans recognize the coffin hotel, also called the New Rose Hotel, both in Neuromancer and in the short story New Rose Hotel:
The New Rose Hotel is a coffin rack on the ragged fringes of Narita International. Plastic capsules a meter high and three long, stacked like surplus Godzilla teeth in a concrete lot off the main road to the airport. Each capsule has a television mounted flush with the ceiling.
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