Archive for the ‘Architecture’ Category

More on Pyongyang’s facelift

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

As mentioned earlier (here, here, here, and here) the DPRK is pursuing the goal of achieving a “strong and prosperous country (Kangsong Taeguk)” by 2012 (Kim il Sung’s 100th birthday).

Today the Choson Sinbun (via Yonhap) fills us in on some new policy details:

Choson Sinbun, a pro-Pyongyang paper published by Korean residents in Japan, said the People’s Committee of Pyongyang plans to plant 300,000 trees and build several “modern” parks across the capital under its 2009 urban management plan.

“The plan is characterized by the construction and modernization of parks and recreational gardens, and coincides with North Korea’s key aim of enhancing the cultural life and morale of its workers,” it said.

A greenspace will be built along the residential Mansudae area, where many apartment buildings are under construction, according to the report. A “folk park” and a “modern park” are also being planned for other areas in the city.

Antiquated facilities at a pond park at the edge of Pyongyang will be replaced by statues, recreation facilities and a beverage store, it said.

The urban remodeling project is being spearheaded by Jang Song-thaek, brother-in-law of leader Kim Jong-il, who reportedly wields nearly unrivaled power.

Read the full article here:
Pyongyang beefs up remodeling drive with more parks


Pyongyang’s first snow of 2008

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

Taken by a Xinhua reporter (h/t to Korea Beat).


This photo is taken in Kim il Sung Square in front of Kim Jong il’s viewing platform and the Grand People’s Study House.


Pyongyang remodeling underway

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 08-11-17-1

North Korea’s capital city of Pyongyang appears to be getting a facelift. The (North) Korean Central Broadcasters has reported that a city beautification project is underway in Pyongyang.

An apartment-erecting crane is building a new skyscraper, while construction has been restarted on the 16-year old remains of the shell of the Ryukyung Hotel as large-scale construction equipment and barges crowd the river as piles of construction materials can be found at each construction site.

Pyongyang insiders report that efforts getting underway in this anniversary year marking 60 years since the founding of the country are part of an effort to make Pyongyang a completely new city by 2012, when the North will mark the 100th birthday of its eternal president, Kim Il Sung.

Pyongyang is being developed as a ‘showcase capital’ for international visitors to the poverty-stricken North, as the North Korean people refer to Pyongyang as the ‘capital of the revolution.’

Recently, South Korean representatives from organizations providing aid to the North have reported being been surrounded by new construction of hotels and other buildings and the refurbishment of older buildings such as the Pyongyang Grand Theater.

What is curious is that the origin of the capital needed for these large-scale construction projects appears to indicate growing investment from foreign enterprises. The Ryukyung Hotel construction is reportedly being supported by a United Arab Emirates (UAE) company.*

A South Korean entrepreneur recently in Pyongyang quoted a Pyongyang official as saying, “The Ryukyung Hotel will be complete within three years,” and that the Daedong River Hotel construction was almost in the finishing stages with the help of foreign investment.

In January of this year, the Egyptian wireless communications company Orascom announced it would invest 400 million USD in order to construct the North’s first wireless communications network.

Also, North Korea’s foreign trade appears to have grown this year, especially because, as energy demand has sharply increased, the North’s export of mined materials to China appears in early calculations to have expanded considerably.

* NKeconWatch: This is the first I have heard about a UAE firm.  Previously, discussion centered only around Orascom.


The Short Happy Life of the Ryugyong Hotel

Friday, October 31st, 2008

Parallax Journal of International Perspectives
Volume V, No. 1, (Fall 2008)
Michael Madden

Download the PDF here: maddenarticle.pdf

Abstract: Called the “Worst building in the history of mankind” by Esquire Magazine, North Korea’s Ryugyong Hotel is one of the twenty tallest buildings in the world, despite being little more than a desolate concrete shell.  How the building came to be constructed and who constructed it becomes a small cultural history lesson on the secretive communist state.

About the author: Michael Madden studied writing with Stratis Haviaras and LArry Heinenmann, and spent several years under the tutelage of Christopher Ricks.  He is currently working on a satellite map of Pyongyang juring Japan’s annexation of the Korean Penninsula from 1910 to 1945.  Mr. Madden is a member of the association of Literary Scholars and Critics.  He works with the Office of the Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, at Suffolk University in Boston, Massachusetts.


North Korea on Google Earth

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

North Korea Uncovered: Version 12
Download it here

mayday.JPGAbout this Project: This map covers North Korea’s agriculture, aviation, cultural locations, markets, manufacturing facilities, energy infrastructure, political facilities, sports venues, military establishments, religious facilities, leisure destinations, national parks, shipping, mining, and railway infrastructure. It is continually expanding and undergoing revisions. This is the 12th version.

Additions include: Tongch’ang-dong launch facility overlay (thanks to Mr. Bermudez), Yongbyon overlay with destroyed cooling tower (thanks to Jung Min Noh), “The Barn” (where the Pueblo crew were kept), Kim Chaek Taehung Fishing Enterprise, Hamhung University of education, Haeju Zoo, Pyongyang: Kim il Sung Institute of Politics, Polish Embassy, Munsu Diplomatic Store, Munsu Gas Station, Munsu Friendship Restaurant, Mongolian Embassy, Nigerian Embassy, UN World Food Program Building, CONCERN House, Czech Republic Embassy, Rungnang Cinema, Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, Pyongyang Number 3 Hospital, Electric Machines Facotry, Bonghuajinlyoso, Second National Academy of Sciences, Central Committee Building, Party Administration Building, Central Statistics Bureau, Willow Capital Food House, Thongounjong Pleasure Ground, Onpho spa, Phipa Resort Hotel, Sunoni Chemical Complex (east coast refinery), Ponghwa Chemical complex (west coast refinery), Songbon Port Revolutionary Monument, Hoeryong People’s Library, Pyongyang Monument to the anti Japanese martyrs, tideland reclamation project on Taegye Island. Additionally the electricity grid was expanded and the thermal power plants have been better organized. Additional thanks to Ryan for his pointers.

I hope this map will increase interest in North Korea. There is still plenty more to learn, and I look forward to receiving your contributions to this project.

Version 12 available: Download it here


Pyongyang’s construction boom

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

UPDATE (2009-10-12): Last September (2008), Barbara Demick at the LA Times became the first US journalist to report on Pyongyang’s housing boom.  Yonhap now provides some additional information on Pyongyang’s current housing ambitions:

The Chosun Sinbo, which usually conveys Pyongyang’s views, described the housing construction as an “unprecedented national project” and a “core project” in the country’s campaign looking to 2012.

The paper reported that the North was in the process of building 65,000 new houses in the city’s western district of Mangyeongdae, where Kim Il-sung’s birth home is located, 15,000 houses in central Pyongyang and 20,000 houses along the railroad spanning between the southern district of Ryokpo and Ryongsong district in the capital’s northern region.

Each home will be approximately 100 square meters in size, according to the report.

The North Korean capital, despite a strict control on the entry of people from rural areas, has reportedly been going through a major housing shortage. The paper said that the completion of the housing project will solve the problem plaguing the citizens of Pyongyang.

In the past, Pyongyang has built 50,000 new apartments each in the 1980s and the 1990s.

In 2001, North Korea sought to develop a satellite city of some 1 million households near the Mangyeongdae district, but failed due to the nation’s economic woes.

You can read additional DPRK real estate posts here.

Read the full Yonhap story here:
N. Korea building new housing districts in Pyongyang: report
Tony Chang

ORIGINAL POST (2008-9-27): Los Angeles Times reporter Barbara Demick recently visited the DPRK (with the Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries) and noticed that Pyongyang is experienceing a bit of a construction boom:

Except for the monuments glorifying leader Kim Jong Il and his father, Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea, hardly anything new has gone up in decades. By night, the city is so quiet you can hear a baby crying from far across the Taedong River, which cuts through the center of town.

Yet these days, high-rise apartments in shades of pink are taking shape near the Pueblo, the American spy ship captured in 1968 and still anchored in the river. A tangle of construction cranes juts into the skyline near Pothong Gate, a re-creation of the old city wall. About 100,000 units are to be built over the next four years.

A modernistic silver-sided box of a conference center is already complete. Theaters and hotels are being renovated. Streets have been repaved and buildings repainted.

Even North Korea’s most notorious clunker, an unfinished 105-story hotel that looms vacant over the city, is under construction again after sitting idle for nearly two decades.

All are slated for completion by 2012, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung. The deadline appears to have taken on new urgency for the appearance-conscious North Koreans, who fret that their capital has become a laughingstock.

“We know we need to modernize. We want to make the city comfortable for the people who live here and for tourists,” said Choe Jong Hun, an official with the Committee for Cultural Relations With Foreign Countries.

North Korean officials insist that they’re funding the building spree on their own, in keeping with an underlying ideology that emphasizes self-reliance.

“If we rely on others, our dreams won’t be realized by 2012. It is all built with our own technology, our own material, our own labor, our own strength,” Choe said.

But analysts are skeptical of such claims, given the nation’s economy and the regime’s secretive nature and often deceptive pronouncements.

“This is a puzzle,” said Yoon Deok-ryong, a South Korean economist who recently visited Pyongyang. “The North Koreans are trying to show the outside world that they are not starving, that they are strong, but we know it is not true, so we wonder where the money is coming from.”

Ms. Demick also speculates on a political reason why Kim Jong il might be financing the construction (beyond the stated policy goal of achieving economic success by 2012):

Expatriate businesspeople in Pyongyang say Kim might also be investing some of his own stash with an eye toward maintaining the loyalty of his Workers’ Party cadres. Apartments under construction look to be aimed at the elite.

Read the full story here:
North Korea in the midst of a mysterious building boom
Los Angeles Times
Barbara Demick


The DPRK’s “tallest flagpole in the world”

Monday, August 18th, 2008

dprk-flagpole.jpgVisitors to either side of Korea’s DMZ will be familiar with the DPRK’s 160 meter (525 ft) flagpole in Kijong-dong. Wikipedia, citing a CNN report, claims the flag pole is the tallest in the world.  I was pretty sure of this fact as well, but according to Guinness, I was wrong.

The top 4 “unsupported” flag poles are: 1. Turkmenistan: 436 feet 2. Aqaba, Jordan: 431 feet 3. Amman, Jordan: 416 feet (126 meters) 4. United Arab Emirates: 404 feet (123.1 meters). The DPRK’s omission from this list is due to the fact that its flag pole technically sits on top of a tower, making it a “supported” structure—the equivalent of building a small flagpole on a tall building.

The DPRK might scoff at this subtlety, but even if one was to give them the benefit of the doubt, the victory would be short-lived.  According to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal, David Chambers of Trident Support Corporation is erecting a 532 foot flag pole, a full 7 feet taller than the DPRK’s, in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku.

(Hat tip to Daniel Rothschild)

To learn more, read the very interesting and humorous article below:
Flagpole Builder Hits New Heights In Central Asia
Wall Street Journal, Page A1
Chip Cummins


Download glitch fixed: North Korea Google Earth (version 11)

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

The most authoritative map of North Korea on Google Earth
Download it here

This map covers North Korea’s agriculture, aviation, cultural locations, markets, manufacturing facilities, railroad, energy infrastructure, politics, sports venues, military establishments, religious facilities, leisure destinations, and national parks. It is continually expanding and undergoing revisions. This is the eleventh version.

Additions include: Mt. Paegun’s Ryonghung Temple and resort homes, Pyongyang’s Chongryu Restaurant, Swiss Development Agency (former UNDP office), Iranian Embassy, White Tiger Art Studio, KITC Store, Kumgangsan Store, Pyongyang Fried Chicken Restaurant, Kilju’s Pulp Factory (Paper), Kim Chaek Steel Mill, Chongjin Munitions Factory, Poogin Coal Mine, Ryongwun-ri cooperative farm, Thonggun Pavilion (Uiju), Chinju Temple (Yongbyon), Kim il Sung Revolutionary Museum (Pyongsong), Hamhung Zoo, Rajin electrified perimeter fence, Pyongsong market (North Korea’s largest), Sakju Recreation Center, Hoeryong Maternity Hospital, Sariwon Suwon reservoir (alleged site of US massacre), Sinpyong Resting Place, 700 Ridges Pavilion, Academy of Science, Hamhung Museum of the Revolutionary Activities of Comrade Kim Il Sung, South Hamgyong House of Culture, Hamhung Royal Villa, Pork Chop Hill, and Pyongyang’s Olympic torch route. Additional thanks go to Martyn Williams for expanding the electricity grid, particularly in Samjiyon, and various others who have contributed time improving this project since its launch.

Disclaimer: I cannot vouch for the authenticity of many locations since I have not seen or been to them, but great efforts have been made to check for authenticity. These efforts include pouring over books, maps, conducting interviews, and keeping up with other peoples’ discoveries. In many cases, I have posted sources, though not for all. This is a thorough compilation of lots of material, but I will leave it up to the reader to make up their own minds as to what they see. I cannot catch everything and I welcome contributions.  Additionally, this file is getting large and may take some time to load.


Pyongyang undergoes facelift

Monday, May 19th, 2008

Pyongyang, May 19 (KCNA) — A campaign for putting Pyongyang on a new look has been vigorously launched with the approach of the 60th anniversary of the foundation of the DPRK.

The city is abustle with the work of paving most of the streets with asphalt, greening areas along streets and painting buildings.

More than 20 streets including Ryongnamsan, Ponghwa, Yongung, Changgwang and Hyoksin Streets and their sideroads and roads leading to and in parks, recreation grounds and other cultural resorts around Moran Hill and along the Taedong River have been already asphalt-surfaced.

According to the data available, the pavement project has been carried out over 50 per cent.

Great efforts are also directed to the projects for paving sidewalks with color blocks and for repairing and building infrastructure including water supply and sewage works.

The finishing touch is being given to the work of transplanting good species of trees including ginkgo and cryptomeria and flower shrubs and additionally planting turf.

Meanwhile, the project for plastering and painting buildings is also at its height.


Esquire Magazine recognizes Ryugyong Hotel

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

…as “The Worst Building in the History of Mankind.”  (h/t Marginal Revolution) Excerpts below:

It’s the Ryugyong Hotel in North Korea, where the world’s 22nd largest skyscraper has been vacant for two decades and is likely to stay that way … forever.

Even by Communist standards, the 3,000-room hotel is hideously ugly, a series of three gray 328-foot long concrete wings shaped into a steep pyramid. With 75 degree sides that rise to an apex of 1,083 feet, the Hotel of Doom (also known as the Phantom Hotel and the Phantom Pyramid) isn’t the just the worst designed building in the world — it’s the worst-built building, too. In 1987, Baikdoosan Architects and Engineers put its first shovel into the ground and more than twenty years later, after North Korea poured more than two percent of its gross domestic product to building this monster, the hotel remains unoccupied, unopened, and unfinished.

Construction on the Hotel of Doom stopped in 1992 (rumors maintain that North Korea ran out of money, or that the building was engineered improperly and can never be occupied) and has never started back up, which shouldn’t come as a shock.

What is most interesting is that a group of German architechts is already speculating on projects to revitalize the site.

Richard Dank and Andreas Gruber, a pair of German architects and self-described “custodians of the pyramid’s diverse manifestations.” The duo run, which they describe as an “experimental collaborative online architecture site.” Sad you can’t visit the building in real life? Log on, view the detailed 3-D models, and “claim” a subsection for yourself.

And of course, no story on the Ryugyong is complete without the “Demolitoin S How” video, which shows how the Ryugyong’s dominance of the Pyongyang skyline might make it valuable as a good bill board platform in the future:


The video [which you can watch by clicking on the image above] was mounted as part of the exhibition Fiction Pyongyang, curated in part by Stefano Boeri, who also collected 120 speculative designs for the hotel in the June 2006 domus magazine (archives here). The designs, he says, “have forced it to reveal its icy nature, its irresistible fascination as a fragile alien meteorite.” The worst building in the world is also, we now know, “the only built piece of science fiction in the contemporary world.” And it’s true. Demolition S How is all Blade Runner-style flying ads and soaring concrete, and the video reminds us that the worst building in the world is the closest humans have come to building a Death Star.

Other information:
Ryugyong Wikipedia page
Ryugyong photo (showing the base)

Full Article:
The Worst Building in the History of Mankind
Esquire Magazine
Eva Hagberg