Archive for the ‘Architecture’ Category

Friday fun: It’s “out with the old” at some Kim family residencies

Friday, August 14th, 2015

This story has already gotten some traction in the media, but some things end up getting cut–and this is why we have blogs. As reported in the media, a residential component of the Kim Family’s Ryongsong Housing Compound has been renovated.


Image date: 2014-9-21


Image date: 2014-10-27


Image date: 2015-4-28

I am unsure who now lives here or how much the project cost, but it was completed in about seven months (on the outside). It is hard to say if work is continuing on the inside because, unlike other construction sites in the DPRK, the workers are being bused in to work for the day and then bused out. There are no barracks or equipment next to the construction site. So security was pretty tight for this particular project.

Another interesting change is the destruction of the compound pool and water-slide:


Image date: 2013-2-22


Image date: 2013-3-5


Image date: 2013-5-3

It is unclear when this water-slide and pool were built (pre-2000), but it is highly probable that Kim Jong-un used to enjoy it when he was younger. We all grow up, however. Now he has nicer toys to play with.

But the compound did not go without a pool. Just before the above pool was destroyed, somebody in the Kim family built the most phallic-looking pool/pool house I have ever seen (admittedly a small sample size). This large mansion in the Ryongsong Family Compound underwent significant renovations in the spring of 2012 (Just a few months after the death of Kim Jong-il).


Image date: 2012-4-4


Image date: 2013-2-22

Renovations, at least on the outside, appear to have been completed by 2013-2-22. The new phallic-looking pool cover/pool house can be seen in front of the house. At the risk of ruining my career by pandering to an adolescent sense of humor, here it is (the world should know):


No doubt the revolutionary new “our-style” pool cover is very functional. It offers the bather coverage from both the sun and imperialist-controlled spy satellites–all while maintaining exposure to the invigorating forces of the outdoors.

I would like to say that this is Kim Jong-un’s pool, but I cannot. However, I am confident that is belongs to someone very close to him. Not many people in North Korea get to enjoy homes like this.


Kim Jong Un visits Automation Institute of Kim Chaek University of Technology

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015



Top: Official KCNA photo of the new Automation Institute of Kim Chaek University of Technology Bottom: Google Earth satellite image of the facility in the new Mirae Scientist Street

According to Google Earth imagery, construction on the project started around September 2014.

According to KCNA:

Kim Jong Un Gives Field Guidance to Automation Institute of Kim Chaek University of Technology

Kim Jong Un, first secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, first chairman of the DPRK National Defence Commission and supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army, gave field guidance to a newly-built building of the Automation Institute of Kim Chaek University of Technology.

He was greeted on the spot by Hwang Pyong So, Kim Jong Gwan, other officials of the relevant field and officers of the KPA units taking part in the construction.

He had promised to make sure that a new building was constructed for the Automation Institute when he was acquainting himself with the work of the institute in April last year.

He chose the site of the institute on the picturesque bank of the River Taedong and guided its layout several times. He not only saw to it that a powerful construction force of the People’s Army was formed for the project but personally settled the issues arising in it.

Enjoying a bird’s-eye view of the institute, he said the institute was successfully built to match the environment around it as required by the layout ratified by the party.

He went round several places of the institute to learn about its construction in detail.

He was pleased that the institute was built in such a way as to visually showcase the party’s policies of attaching importance to science and technology and talents and provide its researchers with ample conditions for their scientific researches and living.

He told officials to fully provide the institute with reading rooms, e-library and video system so that they might help the researchers in their work and study.

Noting that a country can prosper only when a revolution is carried out with a proper view and stand on science and talents, he underscored the need to provide the institute with modern equipment and vehicles necessary for its operation as it was built into a cutting-edge scientific research center. He was so kind as to promise to ensure that this matter would be settled by the party.

He highly praised the soldier builders of KPA units 407 and 101 for fully displaying the revolutionary soldier spirit in the construction of the institute.

He expressed belief that the researchers of the institute would creditably perform their mission and duty as standard-bearers in breaking through the cutting-edge science and technology by carrying forward the tradition in which they have contributed to the cause of the party with their valuable scientific and technological achievements and thus give fuller play to their patriotic enthusiasm and devotion to living up to the expectations of the party, the country and its people.


North Korea passes city beautification law

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

It has been confirmed that North Korea has passed a ‘City Beautification Law’ and that it is moving ahead in earnest with environmental beautification projects.

On May 9, 2013 the mouthpiece of North Korea’s cabinet, the Minju Chosun, introduced the city beautification legislation in its ‘Regulations Explained’ section. This is the first time city beautification has been mentioned in one of North Korea’s major publications. The Ministry of Unification claimed that “it has not yet been confirmed” whether this law has been enacted. The City Beatification Law was not included in the Complete Collection of North Korean Statutes which was published in October 2012. As such, one can infer that the City Beautification Law was enacted in the last few months.

According to Minju Chosun, the City Beautification Law is a five page document consisting of 42 clauses. The law’s purpose is “to contribute to providing a culturally sanitary living environment to the North Korean people by setting up strict institutions and establishing order in the following areas: the city cleaning industry, the beautification of buildings and facilities, and city planning.” The City Beautification Law sets regulations that provide for the participation of the North Korean people in the business of city beautification. It also establishes city beautification sectors for management by civic organizations, government agencies, and enterprises.

The legislation includes content which calls on North Koreans to strengthen cooperation and international exchanges in terms of city beautification. It also encourages scientific industry research for the sake of city beautification and the expansion of investment in the city beautification industry. Minju Chosun emphasized that city beautification is not something which can be taken on by only a few individual civic groups. Emphasizing that city beautification is a project which must be conducted on a national scale, the paper reported that, “it is a huge task which must be undertaken by all people across the country.”

Recent reports from major news centers in North Korea seem to confirm that North Korea is concentrating efforts in the city beautification business. In an April 3 article entitled “The Urban Planning Industry is a Noble Patriotic Industry,” Rodong Sinmun, the official paper of the Korean Workers’ Party, reported that “Continually, a great effort must be put into the innovation of the appearance of North Korea’s cities.” The paper suggested beautification techniques such as remodeling the facades of buildings, conserving fences, city planning, paving sidewalks with precast pavers, gardening and afforestation of areas around streams, and riverbank beautification.

On April 9, Pyongyang Broadcasting reported that Independence Road Park is being constructed in the Mangyongdae region as a relaxation area for workers and students. The park is projected to have facilities for volleyball, basketball, roller-skating, and mini-golf. At the end of last month, the Sweetbrier Center, a state of the art civic center, was opened on the bank of the Daedong River.

One is able to get a sense of North Korea’s plans for environmental beautification from Kim Jong Un’s recent statements and activities. While visiting the National Science Center Biological Building’s Turf Research Center, Kim emphasized the importance of cultivating grass: “Grass gives the ground a beautiful appearance by covering its exterior like silk. It plays an important role in protecting national land and in cultivating our living environment both culturally and in terms of sanitation.”

According to Kim’s statement, it can be assumed that the City Beautification Law’s enactment was driven by Kim Jong Un’s emphasis on building a “civilized socialist country.” The expansion of the task of city beatification from Pyongyang to other regions coincides with the slogan coined by the Kim regime: civilized socialist country. That the city beautification business is backed by legislation suggests it will not be a short term policy.


North Korean architecture

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

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.


Architectural and Cultural Guide: Pyongyang

Monday, August 6th, 2012

UPDATE (2012-12-28): Here is a review in the Wall Street Journal.

ORIGINAL POST: In June 2011 I posted information on the German publication Architekturführer Pjöngjang.

I have just been informed that this publication is now available in English: Architectural and Cultural Guide: Pyongyang. You can look through a bit of the book here. You can order it on here.


Rason architecture development concept being implemented

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

On 2010-11-5, the Choson Ilbo published a report on a North Korean video which portrayed an urban/architectural vision for the future of Rajin (Rason). I have uploaded this video to YouTube:

A better-quality version of the video can be found on Youku (PR of China) here.

For those of you who don’t want to watch the video again, here are the relevant images:


The video begins with a quote by Kim Il-sung who insists that the DPRK needs to make Rason better than Singapore after-which it elucidates the viewer as to how this task will be accomplished.  Part one of the video focuses on the reconstruction of downtown Rajin, where a broad new north-south boulevard lined with new housing and facilities is set to become the new city center.

When I first saw this video I interpreted it as more “wishful thinking” on the part of North Korea’s urban planners than a manifestation of actual policy proposals. According to new[ish] satellite imagery on Google Earth, however, it appears that the North Koreans are actually going for it:


The image on the left is an old one archived on my computer so I unfortunately don’t know the date. The image on the right is from Google Earth and was taken on 2011-6-19.  The recenlty released Google Earth image actually predates the release of the North Korean video–so this is what the city looked like when the video was made public. Unfortunately I have not yet seen any new tourism photos from this area to determine if construction has continued to the present day.

Many houses have been demolished to make way for the new road, and I am not sure to where the dislocated families have been moved. If progress continues, however, many more Rajin residents can expect to see their homes demolished to make way for new high-rise apartments. To see a good example of the urban transition, look at what happened in Ryongchon.

Along the south end of the new road, we can see proposed construction projects in various stages of implementation–from “completed” to “unstarted”:

The Rajin Noodle Restaurant has long been completed.  A new project to the north-east of the restaurant has been launched.  I am not sure, but I believe it is either a new library or health complex. South of that is a construction site that has not yet been launched.  The video also shows a large new stadium scheduled to replace Rajin’s humbe sports field and gymnasium.  This work does not appear to have begun either.

If any readers can understand the video and pass along any helpful information I would appreciate it.

UPDATE 1: Calvin Chua of Choson Exchange writes in with the following commentary:

In general, these are three main characteristics of their urban plan which I gather from the video.

1) Functional Zoning
Like any typical urban master plan, Rason is divided into various zones: commercial, leisure, residential, distributed according to its geographical characteristics of hilly regions and the sea.

2) Emphasis of Axis and Roundabouts
There is a great emphasis on the long axial roads meeting at roundabouts which are filled with monuments and civic buildings. I believe this is largely influenced by their urban plan for Pyongyang which is planned according to early 20th century socialist urban model. In principle, it is should be efficient for vehicular movement and transportation of goods.

3) Relationship with Mountain and Sea and the 3D Effect Narrative
The urban plan is also built upon a visual narrative of the harmony between the mountain and the sea where the buildings are designed and placed strategically to provide a 3-dimensional effect‘입체감’ (a term that is constantly repeated throughout the video).

Aesthetics aside, Rason’s urban plan seems to be quite basic, it lacks the dynamism of other new SEZs, research parks that are currently being developed. Increasingly, cities are becoming more complex and developing the software infrastructure (data cables, monitoring systems, green technologies, etc) are becoming as equally important as developing the physical infrastructure (buildings and roads). New business parks like Songdo in Incheon are fully wired up jointly by IBM and Cisco. Urban planning and management has become a thriving business for tech companies like Siemens to construction conglomerates like Bechtel which offer one-stop solutions from financing to construction and layout grids for the city.

While Rason is far less sophisticated than Songdo, but in order to be a well-functioning SEZ, it needs to consider and provide better urban management systems beyond physical infrastructure. Rason would need to consider the project on a longer term basis since the urban infrastructure provided today will have economic ramifications in future. For example, to rewire or install new technological infrastructure in future would cost much more than planning for future expansion. Perhaps, it will be interesting to uncover their plans for these ‘soft’ infrastructures together with the organisations (multidisciplinary conglomerates) that would invest in them.

However, luck isn’t on Rason’s side, its development might be hindered by its geographical constraints. It is locked within hilly ridges and to pipe cable infrastructure to it might be costly and it also prevents future expansion of the city. As such, there are many hurdles for Rason to cross before becoming a well-functioning city.

UPDATE 2 (2012-10-18): Calvin Chua offers more data in this post on the Choson Exchange web site.


Mangyongdae Metro Station concept

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

Back in March I wrote a blog post about how the official Pyongyang Metro maps had been updated to reflect the reality of closed stations and stations that would never come to be. You can read all the specifics here.

Just a couple of months after changing the Pyongyang Metro maps, however, the Mangyongdae Metro Station appears to be back on the table.  It was featured at the 12th “May 21 Architectural Festival” (May 9-11):

It is difficult to say for certain where the station would be placed, but older maps show it near Kim Il-sung’s “native house”.

Given the cost and logistics of such a project, I still remain skeptical it will ever be completed…but the citizens of Pyongyang can dream can’t they?

I uploaded video of the metro stop concept pictures to Youtube. You can see them here. You can see the full KCNA video of the architecture exhibit here.


Kim Jong-un’s guidance trip to the Mangyongdae Funfair

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Wow. In the (approximately) seven years of KCNA reports I have perused on Kim Jong-il’s and Kim jong-un’s guidance trips I have never heard of either of the leaders adopting the tone Kim Jong-un deployed on this trip.

Pictured above (Google Earth): The Mangyongdae Funfair (Not to be confused with the Kaeson funfair or the Taesongsan Funfair). I have actually visited this funfair twice. See here and here.

According to Yonhap:

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un lashed out at officials of an amusement park for neglecting to take proper care of the facility’s grounds and rides, the North’s state media said Wednesday in an apparent move to highlight the leader’s concern for his people.

North Korean media, including the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), said Kim inspected the Mangyongdae Funfair in Pyongyang and scolded officials there after discovering flaws throughout the park.

It is the first time the North Korean media have reported a public censure by the new leader. Reports on similar activities by Kim’s father and late leader Kim Jong-il were also rare.

According to the news reports, Kim Jong-un noticed a damaged path in front of a Viking ride and called it “pathetic,” while also pointing out flaws in the park’s gardens and a roller coaster, the condition of paint on rides and the safety of a water park.

“Seeing the weeds grown in between pavement blocks in the compound of the funfair, he, with an irritated look, plucked them up one by one,” the KCNA said in an English-language dispatch monitored in Seoul. “He said in an excited tone that he has never thought that the funfair is under such a bad state and a proverb that the darkest place is under the candlestick fits the funfair.”

The KCNA reported Kim’s rebukes in detail, using strong expressions of disapproval.

“He scolded officials, saying why such things do not come in their sight and querying could the officials of the funfair work like this, had they had the attitude befitting master, affection for their work sites and conscience to serve the people,” it said. “Plucking up weeds can be done easily with hands as it is different from updating facilities, he added.”

Kim also instructed officials to draw a lesson from touring the site and take it as a warning of the need for a “proper spirit of serving the people,” the KCNA said.

Choe Ryong-hae, director of the General Political Bureau of the (North) Korean People’s Army (KPA), accompanied Kim on the trip and received the task of “sprucing up the funfair as required by the new century by dispatching strong construction forces of the KPA.”

Analysts in Seoul viewed the North Korean media’s unusual approach as an attempt by the leadership to transform Kim’s image. The new leader, believed to be in his late 20s, has thus far been portrayed as a friendly and gentle character with a striking resemblance to his grandfather and founding leader Kim Il-sung. Now, the aim is apparently to depict him as a leader who deals sternly with his aides in order to serve the public, the analysts said.

“It’s an attempt by Kim Jong-un to tighten discipline among ranking officials,” said Jang Yong-seok, a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University. “The fact that it was broadcast shows that the aim is to instill an awareness among ranking officials across North Korea that Kim Jong-un is a benevolent leader but also strict when it comes to principles.”

Jang also said the report could serve other purposes, such as proving Kim’s ability to look after detailed aspects of policy, or blaming government officials for the people’s frustrations.

Below I have posted the original KCNA report of the event:



April 15: Pyongyang via Digital Globe

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

An unknown reader sent in this beautiful Digital Globe satellite image of Pyongyang taken on April 15th, 2012:

Click Image for large version

Photo highlights:

1. Check out the mass rally in Kim Il-sung Square. 영광 (Yonggwang) means “glory”. A tourist made this nice video of the events taking place in the city.

2. The image features the military parade through the newly re-built area of Mansudae street. Looking back, this remains my favorite photo of the construction work (large version here), which was captured by a tourist.

2. The image features the new Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il statues on Mansu Hill.

3. The long-abandoned wading pools on Rungra Island have been filled in, but farther north on the island some new water slides are being built.  Now some new, unknown construction appears to be taking place at the old location:


Kim Jong-un recently visited the new wading pool and water slides (not visible in the image). According to KCNA:

The next leg of his guidance was the construction site of the Rungra Wading Pool.

The pool consists of water slide with four tracks 18 meters high and more than one hundred meters long, a shower bath site, soft drink stands, dressing room, etc.

He was very pleased to picture to himself the happy school youth and children and working people who will laugh boisterously while fully enjoying wading at the wading pool when completed on the occasion of the day of the victory in the war.

He underlined the need to add a diving tower and different service facilities to the area around the wading pool so that it may be a cultural recreation place for people which will remain impeccable even in the distant future.

You can see pictures of the new pools and water slides here.

4. We also have a good picture of the new 창광원식목욕탕, Changgwang Health Complex (not to be confused with the pre-existing Changgwang Health Complex), and Pyongyang Haedanghwa Center.

5. I tried creating a Google Earth overlay of this image for you to download, but for some reason I can’t get it to work. Only 1/4 of the picture appears on Google Earth. If anyone knows the cause of and solution to this problem, please let me know.


North Korea, concrete utopia: Architecture as a propaganda weapon in North Korea

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Authors: Jelena Prokopljevic and Roger Mateos

“North Korea, concrete utopia” (Muñoz Moya Publishers) is a new book which focuses on the use of architecture as a propaganda weapon in North Korea.

Architect Jelena Prokopljevic (Belgrade, 1972) and journalist of EFE News Agency Roger Mateos (Barcelona, ​​1977) discuss the role of the architectural monumentality in North Korea as a propaganda tool, both to the outside, to give an image of power, such as inward, to convince citizens living in a “socialist paradise”.

With its huge palaces and public places, giant blocks of flats and large avenues, Pyongyang tries to radiate a splendor that is contradicted by the dire reputation of a regime repeatedly condemned by the United Nations by the systematic violation of human rights.

Hence, it is in Pyongyang where there are, for example, the officially biggest stadium in the world, the highest triumphal arch, a library of greater capacity or one of the highest obelisks. This is one of the objectives of architectural art in communist Korea, according to the authors: creating an urban setting to live up to the utopian ideals of the regime. A showcase city, Pyongyang, completely disproportionate for a country that has received big amounts of humanitarian aid since in the 90’s suffered a devastating famine.

Throughout its nearly 70 year history, the regime has given high priority to the construction sector, both to satisfy their megalomaniac fantasies and to improve the housing of the millions of people who saw their homes destroyed in the Korean War between 1950 and 1953.

Mateos and Prokopljevic divide the book into four sections: the first reviews the historical development of the construction, the second seeks the connections between architecture and the Juche idea, the Korean version of Marxism-Leninism, and investigates the role of architects and Leader, the third part describes the styles and influences detected and the fourth analyzes the most important works of the North’s architectural heritage.

Here is the English-language web page for the book.

My friends have pointed out a couple of other architecture publications:
1.  Architekturführer Pjöngjang by Philipp Meuser

2.  Kim’s Pyongyang (via Choson Exchange)