North Korean architecture

Bradley Martin, author of Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader, has written a review of the book Architectural and Cultural Guide: Pyongyang (learn more here) in the Boston Globe:

An impulse to come to terms with one of the world’s strangest cities animates “Architectural and Cultural Guide Pyongyang” (DOM Publishers). In two volumes, the appropriately strange new book pairs a reprint of the North Korean government’s own guide to its capital (long available to foreigners browsing Pyongyang bookstores; I acquired my copy on a visit more than two decades ago) with a collection of essays by outsiders about what, exactly, we’re seeing here. The editor, Berlin architect Philipp Meuser, describes the work as “a paradoxical attempt to lend normalcy to the abnormal.”

A Western architecture guide to an Eastern city that receives few Western visitors is a curious thing to start with. Beyond that, some might find it almost indecent to think of Pyongyang as an aesthetic achievement. After all, the most towering fact about North Korea isn’t its buildings but the dire circumstances of its people—a country of 24 million now entering the third generation of rule by a dynasty of dictators whose early run of economic policy successes sputtered to an end a half-century ago.

But buildings are valuable aids to understanding any society, and perhaps even more so when it comes to one of world’s most isolated and secretive regimes. The city’s centrally planned skyline, its huge empty avenues and libraries and stadiums, reflect a very particular fusion of Korean culture with socialist ideology. And the streetscape of Pyongyang tells much of the story of North Korea: the gulf between the strange ambitions of the buildings and the often invisible citizens for whom they are notionally built.

Read the full story here.

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