An icon of Japanese Metabolism, the Nakagin Capsule Tower stood in the Ginza neighborhood of Tokyo from 1972 until it was demolished earlier this year. Conceived by the famed designer Kisho Kurokawa, the building featured two central concrete towers, with 140 individual pods slotted into the main structures. A circular window allowed light into the small modules, which were created with the intention that they could be removed and replaced as needed.
This flexibility was an essential component of Metabolist architecture, which fused the concept of megastructures with organic growth, meaning many of the designs of the period embraced prefabrication for its ability to “regenerate” every few decades. Unfortunately for the Nakagain Capsule Tower, though, structural issues prevented the pods from being easily swapped, and the building fell quickly into a state of disrepair.
Until it was disassembled back in April, the complex served as a beacon of the pre-war movement that began in the 1960s and was one of the few remaining structures of its kind—Kurokawa’s similarly futuristic Capsule Hosue K is still in use in Nagano woods. Today, some of the tower’s capsules are being shipped to museums and institutions or converted into single accommodations, and one company is also working to digitally preserve the building.
Artist Noritaka Minami documented the complex prior to demolition, and his photographs of the facade and residential units are on view this week as part of 1972/Accumulations at MAS Context Reading Room in Chicago. Framing the living quarters from the same angle, the images compare the structural similarities and personal effects of each space. The photos, most of which Minami took between 2010 and 2021, capture a certain intimacy within the austere uniformity and preserve what once was an architectural innovation.
1972/Accumulations runs from September 22 to December 8. See more of the series on Minami’s site.
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Recent years have seen an outpouring of 3D-printed structures, including homes made of coiled clay and looped, stackable bricks, and now, researchers from the University of Virginia put a lively spin on the innovative technique. For an ongoing project within the School of Architecture, assistant professor Ehsan Baharlou and his team mixed seeds into earthen building materials that, once layered into walls, sprout lush plant life and evoke a Chia Pet aesthetic.
At this stage, the technology has been tested on smaller domes and walls, although once scaled up, it has the potential to naturally insulate buildings, soak up excess water that could lead to flooding, create green space for urban critters, and even be carbon negative, as the succulents sequester carbon from the surrounding environment. “We are working with local soils and plants mixed with water; the only electricity we need is to move the material and run a pump during printing. If we don’t need a printed piece or if it isn’t the right quality, we can recycle and re-use the material in the next batch of inks,” Baharlou said in a statement. The idea, he told Dezeen, is to establish “an active ecological system that might store emitted carbon in 3D-printed soil structures through the process of photosynthesis.”
In the coming months, the team plans to expand the capacities of the process to create more expansive structures and address the cracks that occur in the soil when produced on a larger scale.
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Interview: Rael San Fratello Navigates the Boundaries of 3D Printing, Architecture, and the Impact of Division
Virginia San Fratello and Ronald Rael of the eponymous studio Rael San Fratello (previously) foster a practice that’s difficult to categorize, which they speak to in a new interview supported by Colossal Members. The pair pursue projects that transcend the boundaries of design, art, technology, and craft: they continually address the implications of the U.S.-Mexico border wall, had a hand in the iconic Prada Marfa, and have constructed homes entirely through 3D printing. Although their interests are broad, Rael San Fratello is always committed to the material and structural, to recognizing everyone’s humanity, and to finding sustainable, practical ways to create a more hospitable future.
It was our hope that people would be able to relate to some of the spaces we created and would be able to understand and literally feel the bereftness, loneliness, and loss created by the division in the house. These are emotions that we all have and we all understand. With this project, we wish to communicate how the (border) wall is not only dividing places. It’s dividing people. It’s dividing families and how the unfortunate politics of the wall today is dividing children from their parents.
In this conversation, the pair speaks with Colossal managing editor Grace Ebert about applying their 3D-printing practice to larger projects, the role tradition plays in their works, and how, as educators, they encourage their students to embody the same innovative, endlessly curious mindset.
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A forthcoming monograph published by Phaidon packs the inimitable career of artist Olafur Eliasson (previously) into nearly 500 pages. Spanning from the 1990s to today, the expanded edition comprises a breadth of works, including “The Weather Project,” the widely acclaimed installation that took over Tate Modern in 2003, and the more recent “Life,” which flooded Fondation Beyeler in Basel last year with murky green waters. This new volume contains hundreds of photos and illustrations paired with writing by Michelle Kuo, Anna Engberg-Pedersen, and the artist himself and reflects on both the monumental public installations and smaller works that define his practice. Olafur Eliasson, Experience is currently available for pre-order on Bookshop.
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In the AI-Generated ‘Symbiotic Architecture,’ Manas Bhatia Envisions an Apartment Complex Within a Live Redwood
Much of the architecture in the Western world relies on sterile materials like steel and concrete and a desire to build upward, with skyscrapers soaring high above the earth. As designs necessarily shift in response to a changing climate, there’s renewed interest in adopting more organic, sustainable approaches to construction that more directly interact with the environment—see these bricks that double as homes for bees and an exploration of Indigenous technologies as examples.
Part of finding alternatives to conventional methods is pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, which is the basis of a new series by architect and computational designer Manas Bhatia. Created using the artificial intelligence tool Midjourney, the conceptual renderings of Symbiotic Architecture imagine an apartment complex embedded within towering, live redwoods. “I have always been fascinated by how small insects and creatures create their dwellings in nature,” he told designboom. “Ants, for example, create their dwellings with intricate networks in the soil. If humans could create buildings that grow and breathe like plants do, what an amazing world would that be to live in.”
To produce the drawings, Bhatia entered basic text prompts like “hollowed,” “stairs,” and “tree” into the system, which then generated the enchanting structures. Glass windows and balconies nestle into the grainy bark, with knotty, cavernous entrances at the base. Although the surreal designs are not practically feasible at the moment, they offer a way to more easily envision potential projects. “To give life to such an idea, we’ll have to wait for a long time working our way towards the goal gradually,” Bhatia says, explaining further:
Currently, I am interested in using these images to try to develop a 3D model using AI and modeling software like Rhino and Grasshopper. That is really the first step towards the journey of manifesting this project into reality. Till that time comes, AI will have drastically improved making the entire process much easier than it can be thought of at the moment.
To find more of the designer’s projects both real and imagined, visit Instagram.
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Mimicking the peaks of the surrounding conifers, an A-frame house in Sikhall, Vänersborg, Sweden is designed for entirely self-sufficient living. The largely wood and glass construction is the project of Naturvillan, a Swedish architecture firm focusing on building homes with minimal impacts on the environment.
The triangular model shown here is “Atri,” a light-filled house with a wood-burning stove and solar panels attached to its slanted roof. Intended for energy production in both winter and summer, the two sources are robust enough to heat the water and provide electricity. For added assurance, the home contains another power source in case of extreme weather.
An on-site well also pumps drinking water, with any waste directed to the flower beds for filtering. These raised gardens line the perimeter of the first floor and are large enough to grow fruits and vegetables.
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