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