in MA

Ma’s Obscure City of Voids – Research

Metabolist Architecture

“Metabolism is the name of the group, in which each member proposes further designs of our coming world through his concrete designs and illustrations. We regard human society as a vital process – a continuous development from atom to nebula. The reason why we use such a biological word, metabolism, is that we believe design and technology should be a denotation of human society. We are not going to accept metabolism as a natural process, but try to encourage active metabolic development of our society through our proposals”
– From the Metabolism: The Proposals for New Urbanism (manifesto)

Metabolism, or 新陳代謝 shinchintaisha, is an architectural movement developed during the post war period in a Japan that questioned its cultural identity. The ideology sees a world where architectural megastructures could experience organic biological growth, being much more flexible than the status quo.

“the small group of architects imagined a world of flexible cities where buildings, like people, were transient and ever changing. known as avant-garde architecture, the architects believed that traditional fixed forms were no longer applicable to the modern lifestyle.” – Excerpt by DesignBoom from here

Nakagin Capsule Tower

image from here

Possibly one of the most famous buildings of the movement, the Nakagin Capsule Tower was designed by Kisho Kurokawa, one of the founders of the Metabolist movement. Constructed in 1972, the tower consists of 140 capsules plugged into 2 cores that are 11 and 13 stories high. The capsules are 2.5m by 1.3m with built in storage and furniture and were designed so that they could be unplugged from the core and upgraded when necessary.

Despite its status as an icon of the movement and an architectural heritage site, the tower has fallen into a state of disrepair, with none of its capsules ever being unplugged and replaced.

interior view of a capsule at the ‘metabolism – the city of the future – dreams and visions of reconstruction in postwar and present-day japan’ at the mori art museum


Here’s a video I found on Gestalt that I feel is extremely engaging and informative!
Some key things to take away on the Gestalt principles are:

  1. Gestalt is the idea that we make sense of things as a whole, rather than individual parts
  2. The gestalt theory consists of 6 design principles: figure-ground, similarity, proximity, closure, continuity and order
  3. Figure-ground: the ability to perceive an image’s background and foreground
  4. Similarity: the perception that items with similar characteristics are grouped together – characters include colour, size, fonts, shapes and a texture
  5. Proximity: the notion of grouping objects that are close together
  6. Closure: the idea that our minds close objects that are not complete in order to complete a whole
  7. Continuity: the theory that we continue to follow objects that are visually aligned until they are interrupted
  8. Order: the belief that alignment and symmetry are essential elements of design

Some examples that utilise the Gestalt principles include:
Continuation: dotted lines on google maps

Image from here

Figure Ground: MC Escher’s Day and Night, 1938
image from here

Closure: the unseen light bulb

image from here

Proximity: a halftone image that simulates an eye
image from here

Modular design is a design approach that creates a larger structure or object out of independent, standard interfaces. Sometimes, the use of a modular system allows for customisation, upgrading, reuse and repair. The LEGO is an iconic example of a module.

Modules in architecture: 
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Designed by American/Turkish architecture firm Eray Carbajo, Urban Rural set to be developed in Istanbul. It consists of modular hexagonal units, creating a more visually interesting architectural facade.

image from here
Featuring arches as a module, this proposed residential tower in Tel Aviv is extremely eye-catching!

Here’s a video I found of designer Matt Lucraft’s proposal for a modular housing system to combat London’s lack of affordable housing. The modular system is utilised to assemble homes quickly and at a low cost. Additional modules could be plugged in to expand the building when required. I find this idea fascinating as its flexibility in expansion and low cost could possibly be used in places with scarcity of land and high demand for housing such as Hong Kong.

Modular architecture in Singapore 

“My Dream, Our Vision” by Design Act, 2010
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Interlace by RSP Architects
image from here

Modules in furniture design:
Modular design is not only used in architecture, but can be applied to furniture design as well! The ability to expand by simply adding more modules is extremely cost efficient as more space could be created by adding on parts as compared to replacing the whole unit. Below are some of the examples I have found featuring modules.

Hexagonal modules in shelving

image from here

Tetris-like modules for tables

image from here

  1. Thanks for the really solid research here Charm especially for expressing Gestalt principle. I need to see how your group applies this to the design of your city next. The execution and exploration of “tubular” modules must be clearly expressed in the “framing” of your various VOID spaces by the tubes to portray the HUB, HABITAT and HIGHWAY within your city above and below ground. Do also demonstrate how this is designed to be ‘plugged into your tree site’. Conceal/ disguise the rigidity of the current “rectangular box” that you showed me on Friday.