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Late Japan architect's villa to become lodge offering 'capsule architecture' experience

The exterior of Capsule House-K is seen in this photo taken by Shinjiro Yamada and provided by the Capsule Architecture Project.=Click/tap photo for more images.

TOKYO -- Capsule architecture by globally renowned architect Kisho Kurokawa (1934-2007) is set to be reborn as an accommodation facility as early as this summer thanks to the creative hands of his 55-year-old son Mikio.

    Capsule House-K, a cottage in the Nagano Prefecture town of Miyota, which was designed by Kurokawa in 1973, is getting transformed into a lodge to accommodate guests. It is composed of a combination of cube-shaped rooms with round windows, which is reminiscent of Nakagin Capsule Tower, a housing complex in Tokyo's Ginza shopping district known as a representative work of the architect.

    Architect Kisho Kurokawa is seen at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in this file photo taken on Feb. 22, 2007. (Mainichi/Kan Takeuchi) =Click/tap photo for more images.

    Kurokawa was an apprentice to late architect Kenzo Tange, and designed the National Museum of Ethnology in Suita, Osaka Prefecture, as well as Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia, among other facilities. After completing work for the National Art Center, Tokyo in the capital's Roppongi district, which opened in January 2007, Kurokawa ran as a candidate in the Tokyo gubernatorial election and the House of Councillors election in April and July that year, respectively, neither of which he won. Kurokawa passed away in October that year, at age 73.

    Capsule House-K is one of Kurokawa's earliest works, and is made so that its capsule units are replaceable once they surpass their limited lifespan, like the metabolism of living cells. The architectural movement "Metabolism," which is at the foundation of the structure, was led by Kurokawa in the 1960s during Japan's rapid economic growth period. The movement gathered worldwide attention as a new form of urban design.

    In a manifesto announced in 1969, Kurokawa defined capsule architecture as "dwellings for homo movens (moving beings)." The capsules can be disassembled and moved easily, enabling the house's layout to be changed freely.

    A bedroom at Capsule House-K, with an interior that evokes a neo-futuristic design, is seen in the town of Miyota, Nagano Prefecture, on May 10, 2021. (Mainichi/Mari Sakane) =Click/tap photo for more images.

    However, architecture using metabolism did not spread throughout Japan. There are only two structures that remain today -- including Nakagin Capsule Tower completed in Tokyo in 1972 -- whose interior and exterior were designed by Kurokawa. Ongoing deterioration has been observed at Nakagin Capsule Tower, which gathered attention in the heart of the capital.

    The Nagano Prefecture town of Miyota, where the cottage stands, is west of Karuizawa, a town popular as a summer resort. The building which is in the mountains consists of four capsule units and the living room and main bedroom that are located at the center. The cottage has a total floor area of around 105 square meters. The cube-shaped capsule units, which measure around 10 square meters each, comprise two bedrooms, a tea room, and a kitchen. The tea room appears to have been Kurokawa's favorite spot, and he apparently said that it was a "space in which the mind is at its calmest for the Japanese."

    Nakagin Capsule Tower is seen in this photo taken by Shinjiro Yamada and provided by the Capsule Architecture Project.=Click/tap photo for more images.

    Kurokawa's oldest son Mikio began the full-scale "capsule architecture project," which makes use of the cottage, together with the research lab of Toshihiko Suzuki, 62, a professor of the School of Architecture at Kogakuin University, in April this year. Suzuki used to work for the design office of Kurokawa, and currently does research on capsule architecture.

    As Kurokawa had hardly used the cottage while he was alive, there is no significant damage to the building. Mikio decided to turn the house into a lodge as "its value can be recognized only after actually entering the building and slowly immersing yourself in the space as if you're at home." He also plans to set up a library corner so that guests can learn about Kurokawa's achievements and the architectural movement.

    Mikio launched an online crowdfunding campaign to gather funds for purchasing new air conditioning equipment and furnishings. It is scheduled to last until June 30, and aims to collect some 5 million yen (about $45,600).

    According to Suzuki, to this day, capsule architecture has had an impressive presence, not only as a structure, but also for its interior. The concept of capsule hotels, which incorporated the idea of capsule architecture, was born in the city of Osaka in 1979, and has become firmly established as lodging facilities. Capsule bedrooms have also been used for sleeping quarters at fire stations as well as for guest rooms on ferries, and a total of over 60,000 units have been produced.

    A capsule for sleeping which was made from corrugated cardboard and developed by professor Toshihiko Suzuki is seen in this photo provided by the Capsule Architecture Project.=Click/tap photo for more images.

    This March, Suzuki developed a sleep capsule made of corrugated cardboard. If used in evacuation shelters during disasters, the capsule units will ensure privacy while avoiding the coronavirus infection-conducive "three Cs" of confined spaces, crowded places and close contact settings. Suzuki said emphatically, "I'd like people to rethink the contemporary significance of capsules."

    Mikio commented, "In capsule architecture, individual capsule units make up the whole unit. Modern society is the same in that individuals working in their respective places shape the organization. This ideology resonates with modern work and lifestyles."

    The cottage is set to be considered as a guest house and lent out as one whole unit. The organizers are considering setting the accommodation fee for the entire cottage at around 200,000 yen (about $1,824) per night. They estimate that the building will be rented for a variety of purposes, including as a coworking space and to accommodate families and friends. Those who participated in crowdfunding will receive discounts for staying at the cottage and be invited to tour the establishment.

    Details can be found at the project's website at https://capsule-architecture.com/

    (Japanese original by Mari Sakane, Nagano Bureau)

    In Photos: Late Japan architect's villa to become 'capsule architecture' lodge

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