Michael Vlasopoulos, Greek Architect at Harvard recently published on Abitare a very interesting (sci)-fictitious Manifesto for Tokyo’s Nakagin Capsule Tower designed by Kisho Kurokawa and built in 1972. His narrator speaks at the first person and develops an ambiguous praise of his life conditions since he moved in one of the tower’s capsule.
I copy the text here, but it could be read directly on Abitare associated with beautiful decontextualized photos of the cells (by M.Vlasopoulos himself maybe ?) and a ton of hyperlinks:
DAY ZERO I never forget the day I bought my capsule. The money could buy me a Toyota car but, instead of a breeze on the face, in a seat of a sports-car, I decided to claim a stagnant volume of air as my own. I left behind my movable furniture, along with my family’s history ingrained in them. Everything had to fit inside two suitcases; this is the maximum volume of stuff my capsule can handle. Unencumbered by the weight of old lifestyles, I engage in a new one. SLEEP The ascetic kernel of my new home gives me the perfect excuse to live my city as lavishly as I always wanted -with clear conscience. I can now flow freely in the generic space of consumption of the urban outside, having already reserved a point of return. As long as the city sustains my eccentricities, my desires, my food habits and my plastic impulses, my house constitutes a purgatory for my sleep. Sleep has become a secular version of confession, an act of neurological purification of memory in a mass consumption culture. Oblong, because it is designed for the horizontal of the lying body, the capsule is endowed with a white plastic rigidity. During the unconscious faze of sleep, the bed is the only tool we keep wrapped around or attached to our dormant bodies. It can always be seen as a cave, a suit or a cryogenic shelter for the sleeping body. It is the only stasis a nomad can afford. Inside the capsule I become whole again, another complete cyborg; it’s the same kind of disciplined comfort that I find in my suit and tie. Outside, I’m another nude animal.
SEX My bedroom is so small that implicitly forbids sex or reproduction. They say biologists borrowed the term ‘cell’ from monastic architecture. Now, the word can return back to its original context and denote both aspects of an ‘architecture of abstinence.’ Moreover, the capsule is the only place in Tokyo I can take off my white surgical mask when I come down with the flu. It can become a Quarantine for my germs, or a personal immunological box. WHITENESS White is indeed the color of my free time. I’m used to associate the white blank cells on my calendar with the time I spend on the surfaces of my cell. My free-time -white and pure- takes place in a boy’s room: an atavistic regression to an age where all universe could fit inside a single-room. I voluntary ground myself in this room, insulated from familial life. BLINDNESS My room is small enough to not provide any kinaesthetic experience. It imposes only a single point of view (there’s only one point to take a picture of the full apartment). I’ve memorized the geometry of my capsule haptically, so I can orient myself with my eyes closed. I can go through all its appliances, switch after switch, cabinet after cabinet, like knowing the exact spatial coordinates of the off-button on the alarm clock, when you grope for it with half-asleep hands. OCD As for the inside, I dispensed with the home decoration catalogues. My interior is immune to the objets a of decoration. I, -like Tyler from Fight Club-, blow up my condo by lodging my lifestyle in a white cave. The only way to refrain from the fetishization of domestic objects, is to inhabit an over-sized one. To inhabit a space where there is no distinction between walls and the appliances that furnish them. Surfaces and objects merge into one unfetishizable entity. Nothing should be just what it appears to be: The appliances are the wall, the wall is the cabinets, almost like in that old Buster Keaton movie, featuring a one-room house, where one appliance transforms into the other as it short-circuits the household chores. How exciting is this masculine mechanized domesticity, in response to a lack of a “mother.” This built-in compactness is a remedy for the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder that we-urbanites have developed as a result of the pathogenic profusion of partial objects. An ecology of objects revolves around our subjects and upsets us, when we fail to orchestrate their positions in space. Fixity cures fixation. ON/OFF Everything has to fall between two default positions. The built-in fulcrum of on-off, open-closed, folded-unfolded, rolled in-rolled out. Everything needs to be arranged in a hair’s breadth. This is the kind of discipline that makes my office functional. The only thing that cannot be mapped in the same coordinate system of the capsule is the bedroom sheet’s promiscuous folds. My undone bed provides all the art nouveau I need. The chamfered edges of the interior, streamlined corpodynamically ensure the safety of the fragile human body, as it slides along the refined multi-faceted interior (made-harmless by design).
TERRITORY People don’t understand that in our line of work, you know success has arrived when you finally ‘own a door’: a proper four-walled office enclosure, ceiling included and secretary-guarded. Everybody aspires to have their own personal ceiling at some point in their life, and leave the uncapped cubicle to the past. People feel the urge to whistle or sing in their white gleaming bathrooms, sealed in this water proof room, eyes sealed under the flowing water. Bosses do that in their soundproof offices. At some point, I had to buy this amenity for my own sake. FACE The headboard of my bed is customized like a cockpit. My little personal control room, ends of endless wires that stretch throughout the Globe, waiting to couple with the ends of my own nerves, one for each sense: TV, telephone, radio, recorder. It is a responsive face, right above my own pillowed head; they call it ‘interface’ these days. EAR The reel-to-reel tape recorder is a standard appliance that comes with the house. Everybody should reify his voice -his most immediate corporeal transmission- to a magnetic tape. Walls should always have had ears. EYE The single porthole on the far end of the room, is a circular frame for my ‘Empire of the Signs.’ A couple of years ago, pictures circulated showing planet Earth framed by the triangular window of the Apollo Lunar Module. The capsule’s window is a frame with no angles, perfect for framing the angular urbanscape of Tokyo. If “windows are to a house what the five senses are to the head” then I definitely live inside a retina. We all do in Nakagin tower: homunculi in a compound eye of a fly, only with no cohesive nervous system to collect the external stimuli. The optical information is diffused before it gets synthesized in a collective perceptive faculty. METRO My transporting-self has always been surrounded by capsules. What is more common to me than the universal dimensions of the train wagon or the metro plastics, these clinical surfaces, no joints so as to ease the cleaning ritual -routinized sterilizations by wide sweeps. I‘m a commuter, and this is my kind of regionalism -this is the environment in which I thrive. Along with other ‘white-collars’, we voyage in the vast space of our borderless culture. We travel in the postmodern speed of telecommunication, penetrating slabs with our elevators, permeating wall partitions with our gazes on the vast horizon of the office space, meeting our bosses at the edges of our flat earth. My father used to say that a “man has to be ready to go any moment.” He always kept a packed suitcase under his bed. If he was alive, he would be happy to see me living inside one.
SHAVE Every time I shave, I reflect on the wonderful achievement of the disposable blade. There was a point in the history of western civilization where the shaving machine seized to be a single, autonomous contraption, and was re-invented as a flow of renewable blades that extended the life of the system: grip-head-blade. MODULE No columns interrupt the one-room continuity of my domestic space. No slab extends through other apartments. No embarrassing contiguity with other flats. No more shared walls. I own all sides and all facets of a coherent module. I own a commodified interior, sealed shut like an airlock. I inhabit a tower that can break into its parts. It can be dismantled or synthesized at different ‘metabolic rates,’ just like my shaving machine. The capsules, like cells if it were, can be replaced when they wear off. And thus, architecture aspires to outlive the organic processes of its carbon-based users by reproducing its inorganic form. Anything stable and unresponsive dies. This is the Age of Life, superseding the Age of Machine. This tower had to internalize change. And thus, the same material processes that violently reproduce urban form, will eventually preserve my lifestyle indefinitely. Flexibility will be domesticated, and as such, it will be the new ‘homely.’ I’m no more intimidated by the construction rhythms of the booming Tokyo city. I was always afraid -I have to admit- that my belongings would somehow be washed away by the violent streams of urban development. We witnessed urban change beyond recognition. We needed architecture to surpass the uncanny changeability of the urban landscape. EMERGENCY The capsule form emerged out of our collective anxieties. It is a pure artifact of the cold-war era, isomorphic to the American cold-war bomb-shelter (but only elevated), similar to the Space shuttle (but only grounded). Architecture had to find a way to stand like the Hiroshima Dome, the sole building surviving the catastrophe of ’45. It has to struggle constantly with tectonic plates and geopolitical pressures. It has to become a trench; a barricade to deflect bullets, radiation and seismic activity. Nakagin Tower resembles a sci-fi mothership in a state of emergency: panic forces the crew to evacuate the vast collective corridors and crowded hangars, and pushes them into individual life-support escape pods. People fight over the last emergency space raft and kill each other in their urge to escape. ‘Everybody for himself!’ The capsules are about to detach and fly away. PLASTIC I remember reading on a newspaper about the Monsanto House of the Future in America. A reinforced polyester construction, a cross-shaped ‘cell’ itself (though unfortunately familiocentric by design), that was proven to be so sturdy that, after serving its purpose, the demolition ball bounced back on its shell, failing to turn it into rubble. The structure was stronger than any known technology of demolition -or let’s say metabolization. It stroke me: my house has to be plastic as well. In my mind, Plastic became this ultimate protective material, almost alchemical, the one that could secure my possessions from any outside threat. Plastic is the new stone. STOMACH Behold white-collar salary man, the means to perpetuate your lifestyle indefinitely! An architecture of abstinence to repress your reproduction in favor of the reproduction of our class. To possess the magical properties of plastic, to be a part of a capitalist alimentary system, climb on board this inorganic food chain. Let your property flow rhythmically, like food, until it reconstitutes the same persevering organism, detached from the sluggish ancestral land. Together we build our own middle-class, capsule by capsule, feeding it with our pill-like homes. Hurry up and secure a position in this digestion! STORAGE And alas, colleagues: even if the economic boom doesn’t deliver and suppose we would have to start a family, we will probably use these capsules as storage space, just to revenge the asceticism that they declared, armed with residues of our gluttonous domesticity.-