Once you start looking, you find the same few photographs from early in the Nakagin Capsule Tower’s construction on many web sites. Occasionally you come across something new on the web, or better still find the books from which they originated. Many of the web images have passed through many hands over the years, being copied, cropped, enlarged, reduced, filtered, changed between formats and otherwise altered, until you are not sure whether the detail you are looking at is really there or just some odd artefact. Here I have tried to locate the best of the early images of capsule construction, and will update and replace images as I find better examples.
Welding the Frame
This image is possibly the earliest and should be familiar to most Capsule Tower fans, showing a capsule frame prior to the fitting of any panels.
In the foreground are two corner assemblies. Hanging from the middle of the frame is what looks like a MIG welding reel and in the background is a capsule at a more advanced stage of manufacture, with panels fitted. The welded frame is comprised of a main box-section cuboid, with various cross- and diagonal braces. Short lengths of lighter gauge angle provide the attachment points for the panels. At the far end of the frame are the attachment points where the capsule will be bolted to the tower. Here the vertical members at each corner are doubled up to carry the steel plates that will accept the bolts. Fun fact: the frame is for a “Type A2” capsule (door and window on short walls and equipment on the right), of which there are 27 on the tower.
This work took place at the Alna Koki company in Shiga Prefecture (滋賀県) that manufactured shipping containers .
The oldest web site I’ve found that carries this image is from 2009 (flickr user ___ionna___). The earliest book reference is “Kisho Kurokawa, architecte: Le Metabolisme 1960-1975” by Alain Guiheux [GUIHEUX 1997]. I feel sure that they must have appeared earlier, so will update once I find something.
A Finished Frame
This image started life in the UIA 2011 Tokyo Design 2050 document 中銀カプセルタワービル by Hitoshi Hidaka san (日高 仁さん) in the archive of the slowmedia.net web site. It is captioned “Video footage (produced by Taisei Corporation, provided by Kisho Kurokawa Urban Architects)”.
This frame is at a slightly later stage than the first, having had its corner panels fitted. It is also fitted with feet rather than sitting on a temporary prop. This frame is for a Type C1 capsule – the most common type, with 33 fitted to the tower. The entrance door and attachment points are on the long side of the capsule, which again features the doubled-up vertical members.
With all the side panels fitted, an edge panel is put in place. This image is from Guiheux 1997, with minimal processing. There’s not much new to be learned from the capsule being worked on, but the foreground frame shows both the reinforcing plate welded at the frame corner and the construction of the corner panel. It also gives a better idea of the gauge of steel used for the angle struts to which the panels are attached.
Clear from the next image is the way that reinforcing angle has been spot-welded to the steel outer panels. Also visible half way up the back wall of the capsule and near the top of the diagonal is steel studding to which the interior wooden frame of the capsule is fitted.
Fitting Insulation, and Other Work
This picture comes from the twitter account of the Nakagin Capsule Tower Preservation and Restoration Project, and is a screen capture from the Taisei Corporation video. It looks like the capsules have not yet been painted, nor had their windows or doors fitted. I am guessing that the slabs of light coloured material are asbestos insulation blankets -though perhaps not as other sources mention that the asbestos insulation was sprayed on. It is not clear what the worker is doing on top of the capsule – perhaps spray painting? I would have expected that the painting was done in a more conventional paint spray bay, but perhaps part of the process was done by hand outdoors.
The capsules have their bathroom extract ventilation channels fitted, and also the front part of the under-floor services compartment. Most, but not all, of the capsules are jacked up on props, which indicates that work on the underside of the capsules took place at this location.
Another photograph from [GUIHEUX 1997]. These capsules look very close to being finished. The windows frames are in place. Through the open doorway of one of the capsules on the right you can just make out what might be interior fittings.
Transport to Tokyo
Another screen capture from the Taisei Corporation video via the twitter account of the Nakagin Capsule Tower Preservation and Restoration Project. This shows two capsules loaded on a lorry for delivery to the capsule tower building site. This journey of over 400 km would probably have taken around six hours. For 140 capsules this means 70 lorry loads, but it allowed the capsules to have been delivered as they were needed, removing the need for storage on site.
Arrival on Site
This photograph this shows a different pair of capsules arriving at their destination. My Japanese isn’t good enough to read the banner on the front of the building, but the picture can be approximately located by the distinctive square windows of the Ginza Dai Ichi Hotel in the background, which places it very near to the capsule tower. There are three lane marking lines, which indicates at least a four lane road, but with the lorry parked in lane 2. The mystery is solved by other photographs which show the building is a temporary site office set up at the front of the capsule tower to manage the construction.
Where were the capsules prefabricated?
Most of the web sites, and some of the books, refer to “a factory in Shiga Prefecture that made shipping containers” and give no further detail. However, More detail is given by [ROSS 1978] “The basic structure is an all-welded, light-weight, steel box, manufactured by Aruna Koki on an improved version of the same rig they use to produce large shipping containers”. Aruna Koki (アルナ工機) was established in 1947 as a subsidiary of Hankyu Corporation and operated in various forms until 2005, primarily manufacturing railroad vehicles and aluminium sash windows. Note: the anglicised version of the name is often “Alna Koki”, which is reflected in the company’s web site alna.co.jp. By 2005, the company had been acquired by the Yano Special Vehicle Manufacturing Company Ltd, and became Aruna Yano Special Purpose Vehicles (アルナ矢野特車).
There is an Aruna Yano factory in Maibara city (米原市), Shiga.
There doesn’t appear to be any articles directly linking the factory to capsule prefabrication. However, there are two photographs of partially completed capsules in storage outdoors, which can be matched to the location through Google Street View images.
This first view is from the road near the northwest corner of the factory. The three electricity pylons are a perfect match.
The second street view image is from a little further north along the road, as buildings now obscure the horizon in that direction from closer to the factory. Again, three electricity pylons match well, along with the horizon profile.
The current factory site is dominated by three large workshops, which Google Earth historical images show have been there since at least 2010. There has been roof refurbishment between 2016 and 2019, which indicates that the workshops may be quite old, but there are no external features that confirm whether these are same workshops in which the capsules were constructed. Photos at the the Alna Yano facebook page show what looks like a modern facility. However, I have found some 2017 photographs on their web site that confirm that the workshop still stands.
Here notice the structure of the roof steelwork is identical, there is the same large lagged pipe with a smaller unlagged pipe running underneath, and over on the right hand side are gantry crane rails.
Here the comparison is the construction of the workshop walls, with the same panelling, diagonal braces and high windows.
This aerial view from the Aruna Yano web site shows the workshops. The capsule construction photographs were taken inside the largest workshop on the left.
- GUIHEUX 1997 “Kisho Kurokawa, architecte: Le Metabolisme 1960-1975”, Alain Guiheux, July 1997, ISBN 978-285850935.
- ROSS 1978 “Beyond Metabolism – The New Japanese Architecture“, Michael Franklin Ross, 1 Jun 1978, ISBN 978-0070538931.