images by Jim O'Connell for The New York Times
Two years ago we covered the imminent demolition of the Kurokawa's iconic Nagakin Capsule Tower, where 140 prefab capsules are attached by high tension bolts to a central core. It is getting old, but is fixable; before he died, the architect proposed "unplugging" each box and replacing it with an updated unit.
How old does a building have to be before we appreciate its value? And when does its cultural importance trump practical considerations?
Lets not even get started on the embodied energy wasted by demolishing this, or what an important model of small space living this is. Ouroussoff admires the building's architecture:
Yet for many of us who believe that the way we treat our cultural patrimony is a fair measure of how enlightened we are as a society, the building's demolition would be a bitter loss. The Capsule Tower is not only gorgeous architecture; like all great buildings, it is the crystallization of a far-reaching cultural ideal. Its existence also stands as a powerful reminder of paths not taken, of the possibility of worlds shaped by different sets of values.
But the key question is, when do buildings become cultural assets as well as private property?
All too often, private developments like the Capsule Tower, no matter how historically important, are regarded in terms of property rights. They are about business first, not culture. Governments don't like to interfere; the voices of preservationists are shrugged off. "Want to save it?" the prevailing sentiment goes. "Pay for it."
Until that mentality changes, landmarks like Kurokawa's will continue to be threatened by the wrecking ball, and the cultural loss will be tremendous. This is not only an architectural tragedy, it is also a distortion of history.
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