Ethical laundry: Detergent-free, in cold water or by hand?

Image result for eco laundry detergent ratings
Image from Consumer Reports

Ethical laundry: Washing without detergent – is it possible?


Because this blog deals with fashion, it is only natural to ask: “How do you wash your clothes?” Recently, I wrote about sustainable fabrics for fashion and one way of reducing the environmental impact of your wardrobe is by washing consciously.
So may I ask you: How do you take care of your clothes in the most eco friendly way?
One option is to wash your clothes less or not at all and occasionally rub off stains locally.
Another one is to use the most eco-friendly detergent.
A further possibility is to wash without any detergent. My colleague recently told an anecdotal story where she put in a load of washing but had run out of detergent. Her laundry still came out smelling nice and looking fresh, so it is possible.
However, if you want more cleanliness or have stained clothes (including from messy outdoor activities by your kids) you need something that is strong and effective.
But lets look at Japan, one of my favourite countries! Not only because it is a mix of ancient tradition and ultra-modern technology, or because it just launched a Hello-Kitty-themed Shinkansen bullet train, but simply because of its dedication to improving, inventing and augmenting the way we live. And this is true for laundry, too.
Japan has recently brought a new product to the market which promises to be 100% eco friendly when it comes to detergents.
It is called Terra Wash +Mg.

I quote this source: “‘Terra’ means ‘Earth’ in Latin, Magnesium is a key element necessary for the life on Earth. Terra Wash+Mg is the new laundry revolution from Japan that aims to change the world with power of this miracle element, magnesium!

Terra Wash+Mg is ideal for off-grid and sustainable living since you can use water from washing clothes with Terra Wash+Mg for irrigation of your garden. Magnesium contained in used water can help crops grow healthier.”

The eco-friendly product features are listed here:

  • Reusable for 365 washes/ 1 year > Save time and money!
  • Works for laundry load up to approx. 8kg(17lb)
  • Works for any type of washing machine.
  • Works for both soft and hard water/ cold and hot water > Using hot water may be stronger in cleaning property, but using cold water may be more economical and Eco-friendly.
  • Best in body odour removal [Fragrance Free] > About 10 times stronger than regular detergent.
  • Suds-FREE> no need for white vinegar, fabric conditioners or rinse cycles. Saves money!
  • Human friendly > 100% free of toxic and synthetic chemicals = Perfect for sensitive skin and  kids. Protects people’s health by keeping the washing machine hygienic.
  • Earth friendly > Leaves zero trace of chemicals and save tons of water and power.
  • Fabric friendly & Antibacterial > Maintains fibers and colour. Great for organic cotton.
  • SAFE for children and pets – no threat of spilling and poisoning
  • Best Quality > Made in Japan using patent-protected innovative technology with certified test result.
  • Cleans your pipes at the same time, preserving the life of the washing machine
How does Terra Wash work?

This seems like a real break-through product for the fashion life cycle and environment and I am tempted to try it. However, it does come at a hefty price to start with at over GBP40. It is intended to last 365 washes, but still is probably ten times as expensive as one large bottle or regular laundry detergent.

There are also several international competitors on the market: Washwow, the SmartKlean Laundry Ball, Lavmatic Washing Ball or Biocera Green Ball. Alternatively, there are soap nuts which are a type of dried fruit with cleaning properties.

Ethical laundry: Washing without microplastics – is it possible?

A further way to tackle the washing conundrum is by using the latest washing machines.

The ETHICAL consumer lists washing machine ratings here and informs about environmental impacts. One that has been at the center of attention lately is microplastic and microfiber which is found in clothing, cosmetics and other products.

I love the educational video:

The Ethical Consumer consults on microfibres and what to do about them:

“60% of clothing is now made from polyester, a fabric that sheds tiny strands of plastic every time it is washed. According to Greenpeace, one item of clothing can release 700,000 fibres in a single laundry load.

Once in dirty washing water these bits of plastic go to water treatment plants and then into our taps or into the sea. In fact, between 15% and 31% of marine plastic pollution could be from tiny particles released by households and businesses, rather than larger plastic items that degrade once they reach the sea.

Such plastics are putting marine ecosystems at risk, as they are consumed by fish and other animal populations. They clog up marine organisms’ intestinal tracts, suppress their hunger by making them feel full, and cause infertility. They also damage corals (one of the most effective protections from the effects of climate warming).

The Plastic Pollution Coalition has suggested a few ways to minimize the impact when you wash your clothes:

Wash cooler. High temperatures damage clothing, releasing more microfibres.

Change to liquid detergent. Laundry powder scrubs at clothes releasing more fibres.  (Although the irony of this is that liquid detergent is more likely to come in plastic packaging …)

Fill the machine. A full load causes less friction.

Buy a lint filter – around £10-20.

Purchase a Guppy Friend wash bag. Some tests found that these caught around 99% of fibres, when clothes are placed inside the bag before washing. They also minimise the number of fibres released in the first place. The bags cost £20-25, and can be purchased through Langbrett or Patagonia for shipment to the UK.”


Ethical laundry: Washing cold – is it possible?


Did you know there is one country in the world which has default eco-friendly washing machines? Of course, it is Japan (did you guess?)

When I lived in Japan, I got to have a first-hand experience with washing in Japanese machines. What is different about them? They wash exclusively on cold cycles with cold water. There is an entire history to this industrial decision and the outcome could be judged as a default eco-friendly approach to washing. According to the New York Times (2011)”about three-quarters of energy use and greenhouse-gas emissions from washing a load of laundry come from heating the water – a practice that, say scientists, is often wasteful and unnecessary.”

Selection of laundry appliances in a Japanese store. Image source here.

However, as this blogger My Japan Slice anecdotally describes her washing plight in Japan, sometimes the clothes do not come out smelling fresh or stain-free and generally the washing detergents need to be reformulated if we were to use with cold water in other parts of the world.

Procter and Gamble estimate that 38% of laundry washed globally is currently using cold water cycles. This is a great business proposition and many manufacturers of washing detergents are trying to break into this new market to make profit. For me, it would need more research to establish the pros and cons of using these detergents vs. eco-friendly ones with hot water. How much damage do the new cold water detergents cause to the environment? Is this really more sustainable (paired with the cold water) or just a marketing gimmick?


Ethical laundry: Is it a first-world problem?

Image Source from Greener Cleaner

It must be said, that this a first-world issue where we have access to mountains of cheaply made fashion, where nearly every household or building has a washing machine and our shelves are full of myriads of detergents. If you owned the very basics of clothes, lets say one shirt, one sweater, one coat, a few pairs of socks and underwear and one pretty dress (or suit), you would have much less to wash and you would automatically wear each item longer and with more care not to get it soiled as washing it would leave you out of clothes or with only one substitute. You might have to wash your one tshirt by hand with a bar of naturally-made soap in naturally cold water in the most eco-friendly “washing machine”: a tub. In fact, I would recommend to everyone to try and hand-wash their clothes for a week. It can change your perspective and make you re-evaluate the modern commodities we use, the labour that they reduce but also the frequency and ignorance that is automatically implied when using modern appliances.

If you really want to give it a try, I recommend reading this article “How To Hand Wash Clothes Without Detergent – The Ultimate Guide with instructions” by

How to hand wash in the most eco-friendly way.


Or perhaps you might want to find ancient historical recipes that were used in ancient Rome, Egypt and Asia such as sulfur, charcoal, soda or even urine. Yes, as unappetizing as it sounds, in ancient Rome urine was frequently used due to the natural ammonia to wash clothes.

On this note, I would like to re-post a few images from The Spruce where manual laundry habits from around the world have been poetically captured.

Laundry Around the World

The chore of doing laundry is universal. Every country and culture has its own routines; some are primitive and others have evolved as the country’s infrastructure has modernized with electricity, natural gas, and running water.

As you travel around the world, observing how laundry is done offers an insight into the area’s economy and culture. When we complain about having to do laundry in the United States in our automated laundromats or inconvenient basement laundry rooms, take a momentMOR


Dhobi Ghat, Mumbai, India

Bethany Clarke/ Getty Images

Nearly every early morning in central Mumbai, India, more than 8,000 people can be found hard at work at Dhobi Ghat. Known as the world’s largest laundry, Dhobi Ghat has 800 wash stations with flogging stones where local workers report at 4 a.m. to begin handwashing clothes and linens for schools, hospitals, hotels, and individuals.

The washing done by the Dhobis, as the workers are called, is very different from our idea of handwashing a few delicate items in a sink. The clothes and linens are literally beaten on a rock surface to loosen soil and then rinsed and hung to air dry.


Mozambique, Africa

Camilla Watson/ Getty Images

This Mozambique woman headed to the river to wash the clothes and linen for her family, spreading them out on the fresh, clean grass to dry.

-> See all the beautiful images here.


How do you do your laundry? Which detergents do you use and what kind of washing machine do you have, if any? Is there a way to reduce the environmental impact?


Happy 2018! Bunkers and shade-inclusive make-up are the trends of tomorrow.

HAPPY 2018 everyone! This is my new year’s message to you, the last post of 2017. Thank you for faithfully reading my blog. I am approaching 100 followers, meaning that I soon won’t classify as a nano-blogger anymore. However, I have a few tricks up my sleeve, like writing thought-provoking and critical yet somewhat weird articles, so that any bloggerazzi followers get deterred. (Hope you get my sarcasm…)

But in all seriousness, there are a few trends which have emerged this year and will grow in the next one, such as bunkers and the so-called shade-inclusiveness, and I would like to share my research with you today.


TREND No 1: Bunkers are back in fashion, fueled by the end of the world sentiments.

Atlas Survival Shelters. Fancy a made-to-order bunker for you and the family? Image source here.

I am serious, and not exaggerating, but let me explain:

If you know a bit about marketing you might also know about the “PESTEL” analysis. This handy tool looks at the macro-environment of a business and evaluates the Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Legal developments in the world.

There is Euroscepticism, Anti-Trumpism, North Korea and seemingly endless conflicts in the Middle East.

Eco-conscious consumers have a hard time with sustainability, the environment, global warming, the meat-industry, over-fishing and pollution whilst the Paris Agreement takes a walk in the park (greenery courtesy of other nations).

In fact, fashion magazine InStyle predicts 2018 by means of the “Pinterest Index” (ok, I just made up this term, but they are in fact referring to the “Pinterest 100” which looks at saves to predict future trends) and comments: “[People will] be obsessing over diet-friendly food options like air fryers, which use hot air instead of oil to crisp food (saves for “air fryer” were up a whopping 1809 percent), and “souping,” which means eating puréed soups to reset your diet (saves for “souping” jumped 306 percent).

Social injustice is on the rise in both developed and developing countries paired with inflation and currency fluctuations.

Big Data and Big Brother are the Orwellian future we are now living in and if that is a bit too heavy for you, just turn on some old The Simpsons episodes to see that they actually predicted some crazy things in a hilarious way.

This episode of “The Simpsons” in 2000, predicted a President Trump. Image source here.

Long analysis short, some people are not amused with the way things are going and are investing in their future, by means of bunkers. This PESTEL analysis thus gives competitive advantage to anyone in the bunker business. Never heard of such a thing? Read on!

Underground bunkers are not for everyone and mostly known from movies, the military and famous politicians, like JFK who had this bunker:

JFK was prepared for it…for example during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962

He might have already been sitting there, in the 1960s, when everyone held their breath during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The History Channel recounts the story:

“During the Cuban Missile Crisis, leaders of the U.S. and the Soviet Union engaged in a tense, 13-day political and military standoff in October 1962 over the installation of nuclear-armed Soviet missiles on Cuba, just 90 miles from U.S. shores. […]

In a television broadcast on October 22, 1962, the president notified Americans about the presence of the missiles, explained his decision to enact the blockade and made it clear that the U.S. was prepared to use military force if necessary to neutralize this perceived threat to national security. Following this public declaration, people around the globe nervously waited for the Soviet response. Some Americans, fearing their country was on the brink of nuclear war, hoarded food and gas.

Despite the enormous tension, Soviet and American leaders found a way out of the impasse. During the crisis, the Americans and Soviets had exchanged letters and other communications, and on October 26, Khrushchev sent a message to Kennedy in which he offered to remove the Cuban missiles in exchange for a promise by U.S. leaders not to invade Cuba. The following day, the Soviet leader sent a letter proposing that the USSR would dismantle its missiles in Cuba if the Americans removed their missile installations in Turkey.”


A missile battery, Cuba, circa 1965. Photo: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Is it crisis time again?

According to The Intercept, the current crisis of North Korea has been compared to the Cuban one numerous times.

“For instance, Sebastian Gorka, deputy assistant to President Donald Trump, recently said, “This is analogous to the Cuban missile crisis.” and “according to Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., “It represents the greatest crisis … undoubtedly since the Cuban missile crisis.””

Companies like Atlas Survival Shelters have seen their business recently pick up, specifically after Trump was elected, who offer bunker units starting from $49K for personal use and go up to $1399999 if you want to accommodate 117 military personnel.

On their website, Atlas Survival Shelters declares:

There is little difference between the bunkers made 50 years ago and the bunkers made today except the addition of modern interiors, NBC air filtration systems, Co2 scrubbers, generators, and high-tech electronics. There is no other shape other then round that will allow you to reach the depth underground that you need for maximum protection for your family and to allow the climate to be controlled underground.”

It is really alarming that so many people are worried about the future of our little planet. But on a lighter note, we still have fashion to keep us dreaming.

TREND No 2: Shade-inclusiveness

Another prediction of a trend by Pinterest Index are inclusive foundations:

“50 shades of you: A wider range of skin tones are showing up in new shade-inclusive foundations (saves for “complexion matching” +378%)”

Professor Farnsworth of Futurama breaks the news.

Inclusiveness, be it regarding age, ethnicity, gender or skin-tone, is also on the rise (good news everyone!) and makes room for Fenty Beauty, eloquently named after the last name of the singer.

But is inclusiveness really such a 21st Century idea?

“While Rihanna deserves praise for catering to all skin tones, Fenty Beauty isn’t the first brand to offer an extensive foundation selection. More and more makeup brands are realizing that people don’t come in just eight shades.” comments The Fashion Spot.

Brands like good old MAC, L’Oreal true match, Bobbi Brown, Lancôme and Iman Cosmetics have been around much longer.

In fact, when Fenty Beauty’s founder Rhianna was only 6 years old, in 1994, Iman founded her cosmetics line due to the scarcity of choice. “Her beauty company created the first cosmetics and skincare collection designed for all Women with Skin of Color™.  The IMAN brand philosophy holds that women with skin of color represent many races, cultures and ethnicities.” The website explains.

Iman Cosmetics: Find your shade. I might be too pale to find mine on here…being more of a MAC NC15.
Rihanna following in the footsteps of Iman? Here she is talking to Iman and late husband David Bowie. Image source here.






















Another interesting aspect about Fenty Beauty is that it was the mega fashion conglomerate LVMH which stuck the deal with Rihanna paying her an estimated $10 mio (source from WWD) to launch the beauty brand. According to Lisa A La Mode and her very interesting investigation, Rihanna is not listed as the CEO of Fenty beauty but merely the creator and founder. And Forbes had this to say prior to the launch:

While she may be the face of the company, Rihanna isn’t putting up the money to make Fenty Beauty a reality. The new venture is being launched by all things luxury powerhouse LVMH Moët Hennesy Louis Vuitton’s Kendo division, which was created specifically to work on celebrity-focused projects like Fenty Beauty. LVMH also owns the incredibly popular brand Sephora, which is one of the largest stores focused solely on all things makeup and beauty in the world. This fact means that Fenty Beauty won’t need to worry about distribution or getting into brick and mortar locations or popular online stores, which can sometimes kill a brand before it gets a chance to truly grow.

(Note to self: It will be interesting to read the annual report by LVMH when it is released in the near future and see what has been written about their portfolio brand. The announcement of the launch was certainly mentioned in the quarterly results report of 2016.)


Elaan of Troyius played by France Nuyen, a Vietnamese-French actress.

If we go back a few more decades and look once more to the 1960s (and a cue from Futurama) it’s Star Trek that pioneered it in a space ship, taking a multi-cultural crew to far-away galaxies where all sorts of races, genders, species and life forms were met. As Nancy Wang Yuet from the Huffington Post states: “Since its original debut on NBC in 1966, Star Trek has served as an inspiration for youth of color.” Indeed, together with Gene Roddenberry it pushed boundaries of interracial inclusiveness, at a time when segregation was the law in the country of origin of the show.

“When Gene Roddenberry brought Star Trek to television in 1966, he brought with it the first positive portrayal of a Japanese character in Helmsman Hikaru Sulu. In the midst of the Cold War, the show later introduced the Russian Ensign Pavel Chekov as the tactical officer. Roddenberry’s pilot for the show originally included actress Majel Barret as second-in-command, but the studio executives refused it. Roddenberry did successfully place Lieutenant Nyota Uhura on the bridge, a female African-American character whose surname comes from the Swahili word for “freedom.”(Ryan Soma, The Humanist, 2016).

For 2018, I wish for a year that is inclusive, embraces colours and ethnicities, and peace. It’s wonderful that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize went to ICAN, an organization that works against the weapons, featuring a much honoured “Hibakusha” (survivor of Hiroshima/ Nagasaki bombing) on stage.

If we can produce make-up that acknowledges 40 different colours of different humans, why can’t we acknowledge a peaceful life for all of them?

So my New Years message to you is: “When you buy a bottle of diverse make up, do keep a diverse mind!”

Happy holidays, whatever you do or do not celebrate (Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Western Christmas Eastern Christmas, Festivus etc) and happy 2018 and peace to the world!

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.




Can you take e-commerce offline? Ask Alexa and Amazon.

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Image source here.

Hello boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen,

One of the hot topics I lecture on is e-commerce, physical stores and the combination of both. The usual way this is done by companies and brands is that they have a store and then absolutely must expand into e-commerce, making sure they are available to customers through all sorts of digital and mobile devices.

But can this work the other way around? Can a pure-play retailer (only selling via e-commerce and with a business model entirely devoted to it) take its business offline?

The world’s pioneer of e-commerce Amazon has done just that. The infamous inventor of Alexa was once famous for being an on-line bookstore and a few decades later this bookstore is now a physical store. What’s highly interesting is how the digital gimmicks of ratings or purchase suggestions have been turned back into brick-and-mortar. Although I usually write about fashion, art, Japan and textiles, I want to direct your attention to books, in this case. It’s a great example for any e-business, including e-tailers like ASOS or Net-a-Porter and Zalando who all might consider a brick & mortar store (and not just a pop-up store which they open from time to time).

Below I am re-posting an excerpt of an insightful article by Anne-Marie Kovacs and her blog “As a Consumer.” Enjoy and click on the link to read it in full if you fancy!


“[…] The shopping experience at Amazon Books, the physical store

I walked into Amazon Books in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood last month. This was the company’s fifth physical store. At 6,000 square feet with only 3,800 titles on display, it’s definitely not a bookstore on the scale of the mega Barnes & Noble or Borders bookstores of lore. It’s “small” but the whole product selection is curated – with guidance from Amazon’s top ratings and product popularity – to feature only top selling favorite products. Add Amazon’s tweaks and “secret sauce” to the traditional bookstore model and it made for a very enjoyable shopping experience.


Amazon Store in Southport Corridor of Lakeview neighborhood, Chicago


Book display Amazon Books store

Reviews and ratings

Amazon Bookstore reviews and ratings

Each book presented here has been deemed worthy of taking up shelf space. That’s because any book in the store has a rating of at least 4 out of 5. There is also a chosen reader’s review is featured on the review card that is displayed with each book. As is a barcode that customers can scan to get more information. As a consumer, I’m comforted to know that every book in the store has been vetted by hundreds – thousands? – of readers and should provide a satisfying, if not captivating read.

Visual cues

If you like youll love feature in the Amazonbooks store

I particularly enjoyed the “If you like {_____}, you’ll love {_____}” feature. A visual, immediately accessible way to find other books in a similar theme, style or category.  

Reading prompts and local interest

Amazon Books endcaps

The endcaps each feature different compelling reading “themes” such as the geo-relevant “Fiction Top Sellers in Chicago”, the take-it-on “100 Books to Read in a Lifetime”, addictive “Page Turners” and “Highly Rated” books in various categories. The books throughout the store are all placed face up. This take up a lot of real estate but it does make the selection easily scannable and shoppable.

Mobile enabled and encouraged

Using the Amazon app in the store

Amazon knows exactly how consumers shop today: always with a phone in hand, ready to “showroom” and search for reviews, coupons, opinions… It’s probably pointless to “showroom” in the Amazon store since, as we know, Amazon is the usual showrooming reference when we shop elsewhere.

The Amazon Books store encourages customers to use their app, not for showrooming, but to see the item’s price, additional recommendations and information on the site itself. The Amazon app (incidentally categorized under “Essentials” in iTunes) is quite fun to use in the store. Click on the app’s camera icon and it will scan pretty much any object (you can use it anywhere! Try it on any object where you are now) and provides eerily accurate search results within seconds. It found my Macbook right away when I was revisiting the app at home…

Prices are not marked on any of store items. In what we can guess is an attempt to onboard new Amazon Prime customers, existing Amazon Prime members get Prime pricing (which fluctuates constantly, so it can’t be listed) as opposed to the higher “list price” for non-Prime people. I don’t know anyone who’s not a Prime member. Do you? I bet only a minority of customers here actually pay MSRP. Anyhoo, if you don’t have the app, there are plenty of “scanning stations” throughout the store that can be used to get all the item’s info.

Electronics demystified

Amazon Books store - electronics section

Innovative electronic gadgets are not always an easy sell. We often need to see them in action to convince us to take the leap and purchase. The electronics display seen here, paired with competent and enthusiastic sales associates, make the sale a lot easier: easily understood product descriptions, customer reviews, samples to play with and salespeople available to ask questions to. This is the model needed to break through that customer hesitancy barrier. […]”


On cars and fashion

Dear readers,

I’ve just published a new article about cars and fashion in the context of teaching. Here is an excerpt. Click the link below to transfer to the full article on the academic site!


Fashion and Cars – exploring common grounds in class

Have you ever proposed to your students to explore an uncommon topic? Or combine two topics that seem to have nothing in common at all? What did the students think about the approach?

I am asking you this because in June, I brought up a slightly unusual topic in class: Fashion and cars. At first, it seemed that the two subjects are hardly connected to each other so we set out to explore them. The results were quite fascinating and I would like to share a brief summary of them with you today, because whether you look at design, marketing strategy or the environmental impact, cars and fashion actually do have many parallels.


Image source here.

First of all there is a phenomenon called “car culture” which – to sum it up in a sentence – is the cultural impact cars had on society once they became mass marketed. This influence permeated the way we shop (i.e. big malls), where we work (i.e. commuting to and from suburbs) and how a car became a status and power symbol, at first mostly for men. This car culture triggered a myriad of advertising showing sexy and fashionable women and created fashion outfits to be used when driving such as the original Car Shoe and its many clones.

Read the full article here:

Tokyo’s Nakagin Capsule Tower – 中銀カプセルタワ- the last residents before demolition?

中銀カプセルタワ is Tokyo’s experimental architecture from the early 70s. You might find it ghastly or you might find it cool, but in either case it is something outstanding.

This capsule living concept is rapidly deteriorating and authorities are considering its demolition. If that was to happen, this is our last chance to find out what it is like to live in such a futuristic concrete tower of the past.

This is why I am reposting this story of two young “gaijin” architects who managed to rent one of the last few intact apartments.


The Metabolist routine

Japanese Metabolism was more than just an architectural movement: it was a lifestyle. Two young Portuguese architects, who currently reside in Kisho Kurokawa’s Nakagin Capsule Tower, report on their daily 21st-century life in one of the 20th century’s most iconic buildings.

Architecture / Filipe Magalhães, Ana Luisa Soares

This article was originally published in Domus 969 / May 2013


Sometimes you get lucky
We first went to visit Kisho Kurokawa’s Nakagin Capsule Tower as architects (and tourists). We got lost on our way there and ended up arriving late in the evening. The initial impact was strange: it was as if we were looking at an old friend that we had known for a long time, an interesting feeling when you first visit a building you thought you knew everything about. Only one capsule had the light on. “Curious,” we thought. We entered the lobby, but the doorman quickly saw us out. “No visit! No picture!” were the only two phrases we could understand.

By chance, while we were being ushered back out onto the street, a Japanese man in his late 50s was arriving and, in nearly perfect English, he started asking us questions: “What fascinates so many people about this building? What brings you here?” We were caught off guard by those questions and replied truthfully. “We’re architects. We’ve just moved to Tokyo and we tremendously admire this building. We’d like to live here.”

Top and above: Metabolism had very few opportunities to translate its principles into built projects, and the Nakagin Capsule Tower, built between 1970 and 1972 by Kisho Kurokawa in Tokyo’s Shimbashi district, is certainly the most famous example. The building’s two concrete towers, standing 11 and 13 storeys high, are connected to one another and have a stair and elevator shaft at the centre of each. They house a total of 140 prefabricated capsules, each of which is independent from its neighbour, being attached as a projection from the central load-bearing frame

Kenzo-san laughed, gave us his business card and said: “Maybe I can help.” Thanks to this encounter, a few days later we would be living in the Nakagin Tower. Indeed, Kenzo-san had his office in one of the capsules and a friend of his had another available for rent. We met his friend, who subsequently became our landlord, and he was delighted to find someone as enthusiastic about the building as he was.

When he was young he had dreamed of living there, read everything about the building and the Metabolists, and had ended up buying his own capsule, where he lived for several years before moving to the suburbs upon his marriage. He was really happy that someone still believed in the building and wanted to live there. On the day we moved in, the capsule owner greeted us with the key and said something we will not forget anytime soon: “You are very likely the last people to live the Metabolism.”

Filipe Magalhães and Ana Luisa Soares on the emergency stairs

Living the Metabolist dream
Every time we meet an architect and our address comes up we get the same reaction. “What’s it like to live in the capsule?” is the first question. Then we get some sceptical remarks about the available floor area, followed by curiosity regarding the rent. While our courage is praised (not more than our luck), we always give the same answer: “It’s different from what we were used to.”

Inside, the space doesn’t seem that small. And, honestly, it doesn’t even seem so relevant in our daily lives. The capsule perfectly fulfils its modern function of a “machine for living” and, as a couple, which theoretically makes the experience even more extreme, we can live normally. We are happy here. We prefer to live in a smaller space in central Tokyo than in a big house in the suburbs. Our routine is to leave home in the morning and return at night to rest. We feel like normal, happy examples of the “contemporary nomad” whom Kurokawa wrote about. Nevertheless, it still feels like we are living somewhere in between a hotel and a scientific experiment.

The capsule’s internal measurements are reduced to the bare minimum (2.3 x 3.8 x 2.1 m)

The window is large and circular; it seems huge in such a space. Our room faces west, overlooking the surrounding buildings and the Shimbashi crossing, which at night is filled with lights. The frame is fixed, to avoid accidents, yet this precludes natural ventilation in the room. In the ’70s, all the windows had a round fan system that controlled the amount of light coming in, but today only the metal support in the middle of the window remains. As a result, and despite the fact that we put up a blue curtain, every day at 6am light invades the capsule. At first, sleeping was a problem, but now we are used to it.

All the surfaces are in contact with the outside and the insulation is not particularly good. The result is simple: the capsule is sweltering in the summer and freezing during winter. There is an enormous ventilation system integrated into the original design of the capsule. The wheel button allows three options: “fan”, “low” and “high”, but the air temperature cannot be controlled since it is set by the general system of the entire building. The air ducts are damaged in many places and some residents speak of possible contaminations. Even though we use an electric heater and the capsule is warm when we go to bed, all the heat quickly dissipates overnight.

The windows were originally fitted with a fan-shaped brise-soleil, of which only a central pivot remains

When we take off our jackets or get changed, we have to store everything right away. The space is limited, but ergonomics is all-encompassing. A 35-centimetre-deep closet covers the entire south wall and serves as the storage system for the capsule, simultaneously featuring a sideboard, a dining table, a wardrobe and a set of shelves to store other objects. There isn’t much space for coat hangers, but the table is large and folds away, disappearing when not required. It is relatively low, like a sink, but its latch is impressive: while the table is folded down in the horizontal position, the mechanism is collected in a cavity and becomes coplanar with the table, so your elbows don’t hit against it. The capsule encloses similar small details everywhere—in a very simple and almost imperceptible way, Kurokawa made living in such a space easier. As time passes, we get the feeling that maybe we don’t need more space than what we have now.

The entrance lobby to the tower

The TV is not the original, although it is the same size. The radio doesn’t work and the only functioning buttons on the “control panel” are the ones that switch on the two sources of light in the room: a large central lamp and a small, individual reading light. The fridge is small and tight, like a minibar, but very useful. The freezer is not sealed and thus becomes the cooling unit. We were lucky that it works, because placing a standard refrigerator in that space would have been a nightmare.

As it was designed for the man of the future, whose very busy life would leave no time for cooking, the capsule does not include any appliances, so we were forced to buy a small kettle and a portable electric stove. Sometimes we cook but it isn’t easy, especially if we’re both at home. After some experimentation, however, the process got smoother. We realised the bathroom extractor fan is so powerful that it can ventilate food smells from the entire room, and the table can be used simultaneously as a kitchen work surface and dining table. The secret is organisation (as with almost everything we do in the capsule).

The secret is organisation (as with almost everything we do in the capsule)

When we’ve finished cooking, we do the dishes in the bathroom sink and have to put them away immediately. During the night, we only hear the old refrigerator running. If we feel like eating something before going to bed, or if we’re just not in the mood to cook, we always have the convenience store on the entrance floor, which is open 24/7.

The bed was a major problem. We couldn’t find a bed or mattress to fit the capsule, and we needed space to store our suitcases. Since we were having problems, and had access to the University of Tokyo’s carpentry workshop, we bought some materials and built our own bed, tailored to our needs. With a little diy philosophy we achieved a good result, and even added a few more boxes for storage on the bed’s accessible side. On top of the structure we placed an air mattress, which fits perfectly.

The residents’ letterboxes

The bathroom is particularly well organised. The walls are made of a washable plastic, turning the wc into a capsule within the capsule. In a visit to some of the abandoned units, the advanced state of disrepair of the remaining elements compared to the sanitary divisions was plainly visible. Since this is an interior space with no windows to the outside, the door has a round frosted glass window, which brings natural light into the bathroom.

Despite the space’s minute proportions, there is a bathtub instead of a shower, something very typical in Japanese culture. The toilet, sink and tub are a single plastic piece that functions as a whole and organises the space. Soap dispensers, a lamp, a towel holder and some small shelves are subtly placed on the walls to avoid the need for a cabinet. There is an electric plug next to the sink, protected from water by a metal screw cap. To flush the toilet we press a button.

We rarely see any of our neighbours, and despite having lived here for a few months, we’ve never come across anyone in the elevator. There is no noise in the other capsules and sometimes we have the impression that no one else lives in the building.

Kenzo-san in his capsule B702

Current condition
Every time we leave our capsule and look up at the ninth-floor balcony, while waiting for the elevator, we remember the earthquake of late last December, when Tokyo shook and the tower rocked violently. The building is not prepared to withstand strong earthquakes, but after 40 years these events are seen as normal.

We come from a country where there is no seismic activity, and for us it was scary to see the capsules colliding into each other. We dashed down the concrete staircase, which seemed safer, and on the way we saw some neighbours acting as if nothing were happening. In Japan, an earthquake is somehow part of daily routine. A couple of days later the building was covered with a net, as a “precautionary measure” and “only for a few days”, so as to prevent anything from falling onto the sidewalk. Maybe we’re wrong, but something tells us that the net is here to stay.

There are perhaps ten to fifteen people living here, and most of the capsules have been abandoned

Although it is known as “Nakagin Tower”, the building is actually composed of two attached towers. Each has an elevator core with a staircase going up in a spiral. On every landing there are two or three doors, but in reality there are many “landings” that don’t correspond to regular floors. There are 78 units in tower A and 62 in tower B. The numbering system is simple: we live in capsule B807—tower B, 8th floor, door number 7.

Signs of previous residents are present all around the capsules and corridors. In our capsule, the most evident marks are the strange wallpaper, a carpet covering some degraded spots in the original flooring, and the air-conditioning unit that had to pierce through a wall in order to be installed. At Kenzo-san’s office, nothing original remains except for the bathroom, and the entire space is filled with revivalist furniture; a neighbour two doors down has created a warehouse and lined the interior with metal shelves. Most capsules are generally used for functions other than living. The interior spaces gradually get larger towards the staircase, which is suitable for storing bicycles, boxes, shoes, garbage, etc.

There is no hot water in the capsules. In order to wash ourselves with hot water, we could either install a water heater by ourselves, or use the shower on the common entrance floor. Like most residents, we chose to use the common shower facing the street. Every day we have to schedule our shower time, which isn’t difficult since there are so few of us. Due to the deterioration of the plumbing, new pipes were installed a few years ago, but the job was done carelessly and the doors of the capsules were cut so that the pipes could pass through. Indeed, everywhere around the building it is clear that the structure was never respected whenever some kind of repair was necessary. All solutions are patches.

Left, the majority of units are in a bad state of repair, and few are still used as dwellings. Right, the corridor along which the capsules are distributed

There are perhaps ten to fifteen people living here, and most of the capsules have been abandoned. Some are “sealed” with plastic, while others don’t even have locks so you can enter and see the advanced state of dilapidation: walls are crumbling, shelves are broken, and garbage, mould and moisture are everywhere. From the emergency stairs, outside, you can see damaged roofs and holes all over. The ground and office floors work normally and are well maintained, but the capsules are slowly disintegrating. The doorman leaves at midnight and only comes back at around 6am. The door stays unlocked all night. Tokyo is so safe that the building only needs protection from the hordes of tourists. Until he got used to us, the doorman would always run up to the elevator telling us we could not enter. We had to show our contract several times to prove that we were not tourists.

Someone is invariably standing at the door every day when we leave. Dozens of tourists — predominantly architects — stand on the other side of the street taking pictures. Most of them try to get in, like we did months ago. Usually we are approached when someone notices that we are leaving the tower. In the beginning we were happy when this happened, and we would even show our capsule, but as time passed this became so frequent that we now comprehend the doorman’s brusque reaction to us the first night we came here.

The Shimbashi district seen from the second-floor platform. This area lies next to Ginza and has a high market value—a factor that in 2007 prompted the owners to consider the possible demolition of the Nakagin Capsule Tower. Kurokawa, backed by the Japanese Institute of Architects (JIA), proposed substituting the worn-out capsules

We often speak with Kenzo-san, who tells us that some of the remaining inhabitants talk of demolition as if it were imminent, even mentioning specific dates.

Every day we hear new rumours and conflicting information. Nevertheless, a few days ago we met a young Japanese man who had bought five capsules and was restoring them by himself in his spare time. Despite so many abandoned and decaying units, somebody still believes in the building’s future. Contrasting approaches by the building’s diverse inhabitants outline an uncertain future.

The demolition almost went ahead in 2007. Plans were approved and some owners were completely in favour of it, but a public petition with the support of the Japan Institute of Architects (JIA) saved the building at that time. Faced with this situation, Kurokawa proposed an obvious solution: “Why not replace the old capsules with new ones? That was the idea all along.” However, the idea fell through. Six years have passed since then and the doubts regarding the building’s future remain.

Contrasting approaches by the building’s diverse inhabitants outline an uncertain future

At over 40 years since its completion back in 1972, the tower that was a modern icon is now seen by some as obsolete, and even a bad idea. Nevertheless, maybe the update suggested by Kurokawa could revive the idea that sustained the building’s conception to begin with. The idea of demolition and renewal was an integral part of the Metabolist ideology, so it’s somewhat ironic that there’s all this controversy surrounding the tower’s demolition, updating and current state of decay.

Tokyo has changed a lot since the ’70s. At first the tower stood alone, but over time it found itself surrounded by tall buildings. Facing it, a once busy highway is now closed, with no cars crossing it any longer. During the ’90s several skyscrapers were built across the street, blocking the sunlight that arrived from the south. The convenience store is not the same.

The city has lost its love for the Nakagin Capsule Tower and intends to demolish it in order to profit from the sale of the valuable square metres in this area, which lies at the edge of the fashionable Ginza district. The most tangible materialisation of Metabolism has become part of the scenery. Now rotting, it has become disposable. Filipe Magalhães, Ana Luisa Soares, architects,

UPDATE: Cyborg Neil Harbisson appointed MA Material Futures Designer in Residence!



I am very pleased to find this on my former university’s website. The very cool Neil Harbisson who I wrote about in my last blog post has been appointed as designer in residence at St Martins – in my old department! How cool is that? Very interesting, that we think along the same lines, the MA course and I..

From the website:

MA Material Futures is honored to announce the appointment of Cyborg Neil Harbisson  as MA MF Designer in Residence !

Neil Harbisson is a Catalan-raised, British-born contemporary artist, musician, and cyborg activist best known for his self-extended ability to hear colours and to perceive colours outside the ability of human vision.[9] In 2004 he became the first person in the world to wear an eyeborg.[10] The inclusion of the eyeborg on his passport photo has been claimed by some to be official recognition of Harbisson as a cyborg.[11] Colour and the use of technology as an extension of the performer are the central themes in Harbisson’s work. In 2010, he founded the Cyborg Foundation, an international organisation to help humans become cyborgs.


Synesthetic artist Neil harbisson thanks to modern technology (not mind-altering substances)

Synesthetic artist thanks to modern technology

(not mind-altering substances)


This is a re-post of a fab article I came accross

today. It tells the story of a colour blind artist who

is now experiencing the phenomenon called

“Synesthesia”. Neil Harbisson’s experience could

be categorized as Chromosthesia. here is an brief

explanation from Wikipedia:

“Another common form of synesthesia; it is when people associate sounds with colors. For some, everyday sounds can trigger seeing/hearing colors such as doors opening, cars honking, or people talking. For others, colors are triggered when musical notes and/or keys are being played. People with synesthesia related to music may also have perfect pitch because their ability to see/hear colors aids them in identifying notes or keys. According to Richard Cytowic,[3] sound → color synesthesia, or chromesthesia is “something like fireworks”: voice, music, and assorted environmental sounds such as clattering dishes or dog barks trigger color and firework shapes that arise, move around, and then fade when the sound ends.

Sound often changes the perceived hue, brightness, scintillation, and directional movement. Some individuals see music on a “screen” in front of their faces. Deni Simon, for whom music produces waving lines “like oscilloscope configurations – lines moving in color, often metallic with height, width and, most importantly, depth. My favorite music has lines that extend horizontally beyond the ‘screen’ area.”

Individuals rarely agree on what color a given sound is (composers Liszt and Rimsky-Korsakov famously disagreed on the colors of music keys).”

Of course, in the past these mind-altering

synesthetic experciences could also be triggered

through the consumtion of narcotics. In some

cases, they have been know to create flas

hbacks or remain irreversible….Scary stuff!

Please read below the story and feel free to comment!


Colour-Blind Artist Neil Harbisson Embeds

‘Eyeborg’ in Skull to ‘Hear’ Colour



Artist Neil Harbisson and his ‘eyeborg’. (

A colour-blind artist can now “hear” colours, after having an “eyeborg” implanted into his skull.

Neil Harbisson, 31, was born with achromatopsia, a rare condition which means he can only see in black and white.

For 10 years, the London-based artist has been using an “electronic eye”, which picks up colour frequencies and transforms them into sound.

In an effort to hear more intricate colours, he has now had the device implanted into his skull.

“This announcement is not the launch of a new product and it is not the presentation of new technology – it is the presentation of a new body part that will allow us to extend our senses in unimaginable ways,” Harbisson said.

Harbisson conceived of the idea for the device after hearing Adam Montandon give a talk about cybernetics at Dartington College in 2003.

The pair then devised the device, which comprises a camera at one end, and an audio device on the other.

Every colour recorded by the camera produces a different vibration or sound and a wi-fi connector allows him to “see” images sent from mobile phones

Last month, in a series of operations in Barcelona, Harbisson had the device implanted into his skull, giving him greater depth of perception, and tomorrow he will unveil the device.

Project spokeswoman Mariana Viada said: “There is now more distinction between the colours – it is much wider and more definite.

“But the most important new thing is that he can now connect with other devices.

“He can now not only perceive the colours that are in front of him but also colours that other people are looking at on their phones.

“Potentially, this means, that he could also communicate skull to skull with other people who have the implant, but at the moment he is the only one.

“How this will exactly work and the details will be revealed by Neil during his presentation.”

Harbisson has used the device to create the world’s first “colour opera”, in which he ordered the sounds produced by an image of Barcelona’s Palau de la Musica into a musical sequence, which singers and musicians then performed.

Speaking at a conference in 2012, he said: “For me the sky is always grey, flowers are always grey and television is black and white.

“But since the age of 21 instead of seeing colour I can hear colour.

“So I’ve been hearing colour all the time for eight years so I find it completely normal to hear it all the time.

“At the start it’s had to memorise the names you have for each colour and the notes but after some time all this information became a perception and I didn’t have to think about the notes and after some time this became a feeling.

“I started to have favourite colours and I started to dream in colour.

“When I stared to dream in colour is when I felt that the software and my brain had united because in my dream it was my brain creating electronic sounds it was not the software and that’s when I started to feel like a cyborg.

“It had become an extension of my senses.”


Full article seen here: