Vintage Photos 2 – Capsule Tower Construction

Following on from capsule prefabrication, the next phase is the capsule tower construction. I have tried to arrange this collection of images chronologically, to give some idea of the construction sequence.

This seems to be the earliest photo from the site, showing the raising of the first capsule. Already complete are the two concrete cores that form the lift shafts and the surrounding tower steelwork. The concrete casing for the first few tower floors has been completed, with scaffold and shuttering in place for the next few floors. This is a very efficient method allowing work to continue in parallel, though requiring measures to be taken to prevent fitted capsules becoming damaged or dirty from falling debris.

Photographer Tomio Ohashi. Source GUIHEUX 1997 via

Two of the concrete support pillars are visible on the left. Its not clear, but the outer walls to the second floor office are not yet constructed.

Notable is the clear sky behind the tower, with no adjacent buildings of similar height.

The text on the Tower B scaffold reads:




This translates as ”To be completed March 1972 Nakagin Capsule Mansion Ginza” (Note: Japanese year Showa 47 corresponds with 1972).

Tower A reads 大成建 for the Taisei Corporation that managed the construction.

Assuming that the capsule being lifted is the first to be fitted, it is probably A305, a Type C1 capsule. A second capsule sits on the roof on the left (a Type A1, perhaps A306).

Very similar to the previous photograph, this shows a better view of the temporary site office placed on the road in front of the construction site. The poster on the wall gives details of the “Business Capsule”. The floor 9 bridge between the towers is already in place. The lifting crane sits on girders at the top of Tower B.

Photographer Tomio Ohashi. Source ROSS 1978 via

This image shows the first capsule (A305) being manoeuvred into position on the front of the south west corner of Tower A. On the left foreground are the lower fixing points for A404 which have been encased in concrete, as have those for A305. Presumably this was to protect the steel against corrosion, though more recent photographs show that these casings have in some cases cracked and broken, exposing the steelwork. Other photographs show the fixings wrapped in plastic prior to encasement.

Photographer Tomio Ohashi. Source KUROKAWA 1992 via

Two bolts are already present in each of the upper fixing points, with two unused holes. I speculate that the four hole design would allow for the attachment of heavier capsules in the future. However, the design of the fixing suggests it may have been awkward to get the bolts in place.

There is an oddity in this photo in that the lifting frame is set up incorrectly for a capsule with a long side attachment. The correct arrangement has two chain blocks at each end of the side of the capsule with the attachment points and a single chain block attached to the centre of the bar on the opposite side. This allows the capsule to be levelled against the fixings with the two blocks and the whole capsule tilted away from or toward the building with the single block. Maybe another frame wasn’t available at this early point, or perhaps experience with this led to the fabrication of an alternative frame. A later picture shows the correct set up:

Lifting frame set up for long side attachment

This close up is from the UIA 2011 Tokyo Design 2050 document 中銀カプセルタワービル by Hitoshi Hidaka san in the archive of the web site. It shows the fixings prior to the pouring of concrete.

The square flanges form the base of a small recess in the concrete wall, from which the fixings protrude. You’d expect the volume behind the flange to be fully filled, leaving no space to get a long bolt in from behind. However, several photographs show bolts barely protruding, so the space behind must have been left clear.

This photograph, showing the two attachment bolts to one side of the door is a detail from a renovation photograph by @nakagin_capsule (I recommend following their Instagram account for the most detailed images of the capsule frame and construction).

Another question is how the bolts were accessed inside the capsule for tightening. Interior photographs show no visible access panels – indeed for Type A and B capsules one of the fixtures is behind the bathroom wall, which would make them particularly difficult to access.

In fact, capsules were attached to the building with their interior fittings and finish largely in place, but with attachment bolts left accessible. During attachment a worker would enter the capsule to tighten the nuts. The interior finish would later be completed, leaving no trace.

This is at odds with a statement made by Miraio Kurokawa san at the Capsule House K symposium :


Kurokawa: “Even at Nakagin, you can’t access the fixing bolts unless you break the concrete wall, so once you break it, drop it into the gap and tighten it with one-way bolts”.

Here we skip ahead to some time after November 25 1971 (by comparing with the Asahi Shimbun photo linked at the bottom of the page). By comparison with the next two photographs I reckon this image shows A901 being lifted. Extensive shuttering has been placed ready to form the office walls. The two different lifting frames are both visible in this image.

Photographer unknown. Source from KUROKAWA 1992 via

Here the scaffold and shuttering has been moved right to the top of the towers for the final floors. A901 is being lifted while workers in A808 and A908 continue with internal fitting. You can just make out a capsule on the road in front of the building, next to another part of the site office. One of the striking things about it is that there is so much construction going on. This must have been a time of rapid development.

Photographer Tomio Ohashi. Source The Thinking Architect blog.

A901 being attached.

Photographer Tomio Ohashi. Source

Extensive shuttering for the office walls is shown clearly here. Also, for some of the capsules you can see whether a double pane window is fitted.

Photographer unknown. Source KUROKAWA 1992 via

This possibly one of the most commonly encountered Nakagin Capsule Tower construction images, cropped in several different ways.

Photographer Tomio Ohashi. Source ecoMOD Research Seminar.

Notable in this image are the plumbing and electrical services. There is a row of three holes between each doorway, with two sets on the mid-right of the image fitted with cables draped over the roofs of the topmost capsules. Between them the three cables provide mains electricity, telephone, V/UHF TV and Radio, and fire alarm. Photos from inside the stairwell show three circular junction box covers above each door which provide access to these connections – though always for the capsule on the floor above. Flexible pipes join the risers to the capsules.

In the background the Dai Ichi Hotel is under construction, with a banner reading “5月オープン” (“Opening in May”).

The same photograph, at lower resolution but with a wider crop to show more of the south side of Tower A.

Photographer Tomio Ohashi. Source

A different crop again, but this time at higher resolution.

Photographer Tomio Ohashi. Source The Japan Architect, Issue 110 Summer 2018.

A screen capture of almost the same image, taken slightly later.

Photographer Tomio Ohashi. Source unknown.

The context of the previous photograph, with a good view of the capsule waiting at the site office.

Photographer Tomio Ohashi. Source KUROKAWA 1977.

Image from slightly prior to the one below.

Photographer Tomio Ohashi. Source

This is either A905 or A1105 being fitted, with a very good view of the service pipes and their support structure. The present day toll gate sign gantry on the expressway is not there in 1972.

Photographer Tomio Ohashi. Source FLAGGE 2005 via

Nearing completion, it appears that all of the capsules have been fitted and the concrete poured. The towers are waiting to be capped by the distinctive angular steelwork that house the water tank and cooling equipment.

Photographer unknown. Source web archive of

A higher resolution, tighter crop of the last image. This shows more detail, confirming that the structure at the top of Tower A is the crane and part of the top steelwork.

Photographer unknown. Source ARIEFF 2002.

In this thumbnail image (dated 13th January 1972) all capsules have been attached, the top of Tower A appears to have been completed and construction of the steelwork at the top of Tower B is underway.

Photographer unknown. Source Kyodo News.

A great close up of the nearly completed capsules. The window shades have not yet been fitted, and the keen-eyed will spot a tarp peeping over the edge of the top right capsules.

Photographer Tomio Ohashi. Source

The very keen-eyed will spot that there is nowhere on the Nakagin Capsule Tower that has this arrangement of capsules! It turns out the image has been mirrored. Here it is flipped back the right way round and marked up with capsule numbers:

Also very clear in this image are the double window panes of A906 and A1006.

Other versions of this image with a different crop and resolution are at and

In addition to the photographs collected on this page, please take a look at which shows additional images of the construction process, in particular the pipework and plumbing segments.

An additional very detailed image from The Asahi Shimbun is available at Getty Images. This is dated November 25 1971 and shows A305-6, A403-5, A408, A504-5, A508 and some of the Tower B capsules in place, with A407 in the process of being fitted.

  1. GUIHEUX 1997 “Kisho Kurokawa, architecte: Le Metabolisme 1960-1975”, Alain Guiheux, July 1997, ISBN 978-285850935.
  2. ROSS 1978 “Beyond Metabolism – The New Japanese Architecture“, Michael Franklin Ross, 1 Jun 1978, ISBN 978-0070538931
  3. KUROKAWA 1977 “Metabolism in Architecture“, Kisho Kurokawa, May 1977, ISBN 978-0289707333.
  4. KUROKAWA 1992 “From Metabolism to Symbiosis“, Kisho Kurokawa, July 1992, ISBN 978-1854901194.
  5. FLAGGE 2005 “Kisho Kurokawa – Metabolism and Symbiosis”, Ingeborg Flagge et al, May 2005, ISBN 978-3936314441
  6. ARIEFF 2002 “Prefab”, Allison Arieff, Bryan Burkhart, May 2002, ISBN 978-1586851323