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Crowdfunding Could Save Tokyo's Iconic Capsule Tower

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The owners of units in Tokyo's Nakagin Capsule Tower are locked in a stalemate over whether to demolish or refurbish the iconic building. But Masato Abe, founder of the Save Nakagin Capsule Tower Project, has a plan to save it: buy the 100-square-foot modular apartments one buy one.

"We're going to collect donations from all over the world," he tells the AFP. "Each room counts as one vote, to decide what to do."

Back in 2007, over 80 percent of the owners voted for demolition, reasoning that whatever was next for the plot (in a prime location, in Tokyo's Shimbashi district) would be more profitable than a poorly kept up holdover from the early '70s. But the financial crisis put that plan on hold, and now, the pro-demolition camp no longer has the necessary votes (at least 80 percent) to raze it.

The tower was designed by architect Kisho Kurokawa, in the spirit of Japan's post-war Metabolist movement, which aimed (maybe a little overzealously) to create structures adaptable enough for modern urban living. The units were meant to be replaced every 25 years, but that practice never took off.

With very particular plumbing and wiring that makes corrosion hard to repair, "serious water damage," and aging asbestos insulation (yikes!) that makes winters very cold and summers very hot, the conditions are such that only 20 units out of 140 are used as full-time residences. Some have been abandoned entirely, while others are rented out (Abe's goes for 9,000 yen, or around $80 a night on Airbnb). A few owners have gotten pretty creative:

"Artist Takami Sugawara has turned her capsule bedroom into a giant pinhole camera by blocking out light from the circular window, leaving a tiny hole which projects an upside-down image of the outside world onto the wall." The current stalemate looks to continue for some time, which is surprising, given that Japanese buildings tend to have very short lives. According to a statement from Nagakin, "there are no ways to preserve the building at a reasonable maintenance cost," but some owners hope that a full-scale refurbishment could give the retro-futuristic time capsules a new life. For Abe, the tower is worth preserving as a lesson in how to "live more compactly, more sustainably and have a happy life with less."

· Architectural history in tiny Tokyo capsules [Global Post]
· A Glimpse Inside Japan's Ultra Micro 'Capsule' Apartments [Curbed National]