Forty years af­ter the first one ap­peared, the small but per­fectly formed pod ho­tel is be­com­ing more pop­u­lar

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Pod ho­tels that up the style stakes

Orig­i­nat­ing from the mega­lopo­lis of 1970s Greater Tokyo, pod ho­tels were cre­ated to pro­vide refuge for ex­hausted salary­men on the front­line of the post-war Ja­panese eco­nomic boom. These com­pact cap­sules, of­ten stacked one on top of the other, of­fer stripped-back ac­com­mo­da­tion for the trav­eller – a bed and the bare (but com­fort­able) ne­ces­si­ties for rest, such as a read­ing light, stor­age space and ac­cess to bath­room fa­cil­i­ties. The first ex­am­ple was the Cap­sule Inn in Osaka, which opened in 1979 for men only. De­signed by the in­flu­en­tial Ja­panese ar­chi­tect Kisho Kurokawa, it of­fered overnight ac­com­mo­da­tion to guests who did not re­quire the trap­pings of a tra­di­tional ho­tel. Of­ten cheaper than the long bul­let train ride to homes in the sub­urbs, they were used by com­muters as a place to crash.

The de­sign of the first pod ho­tels stemmed from the Me­tab­o­lism move­ment. These ex­traor­di­nary sci-fi style build­ings of the early 70s – per­haps best show­cased by Tokyo’s Nak­a­gin Cap­sule Tower – demon­strated the po­ten­tial of this type of ar­chi­tec­ture. Con­sist­ing of 140 cap­sule apart­ments, the build­ing was de­signed by Kurokawa and erected in just over 30 days.

Kurokawa be­lieved that the build­ings of the emerg­ing Ja­panese megac­i­ties, which rose out of the dev­as­ta­tion caused by ae­rial bomb­ing in the Se­cond World War, re­quired flex­i­ble, adapt­able de­signs that could evolve as cities ex­panded. This ap­proach was par­tic­u­larly suited to the rapid build­ing that took place af­ter the war in Ja­pan. Ar­chi­tec­ture needed to adapt to a mod­ern post-in­dus­tri­alised world and the chang­ing na­ture of so­ci­ety.

With an ever-greater pre­mium on space in cities through­out the world, an ex­pand­ing busi­ness travel mar­ket and more tourists look­ing for no-frills ac­com­mo­da­tion ow­ing to the eco­nomic slow­down, the mar­ket for pod ho­tels is grow­ing, par­tic­u­larly in Eu­rope and the Far East. Small won­der – prices hover at around US$60 (£46) a night, and they pro­vide a re­li­ably uni­form ex­pe­ri­ence with wifi, some­where to charge gad­gets, wash­ing fa­cil­i­ties and workspace.

The con­cept is out­grow­ing its hum­ble ori­gins, with lux­ury op­tions now of­fer­ing more crea­ture com­forts within a smaller foot­print than your av­er­age ho­tel room. While many are still prac­ti­cally lo­cated near trans­port hubs, such as air­ports and rail­way sta­tions, these glam­orous cousins can also be found in more bu­colic des­ti­na­tions, twist­ing the con­cept by veer­ing away from the cheek-by-jowl set-up into sin­gle struc­tures in dra­matic nat­u­ral set­tings. On the fol­low­ing pages, our top five pod ho­tels high­light the grow­ing di­ver­sity of this diminu­tive style of ac­com­mo­da­tion. →

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