Politics through Architecture – Part 3

A peek into North Korea

‘North Korea has at least some claim to be the most totalitarian state in the world today’ – Alison Rosenblitt

Ruled by a dictator, architecture of North Korea exhibit elements common in a totalitarian regime. As a representation to North Korea’s control over the populace, tall structures dominate the public spaces ‘The emblem par excellence of the dictatorship through architecture is undoubtedly the Ryugyong Hotel, a 1,083- foot-high, pyramid-shaped concrete skeleton that was intended to be the world’s tallest hotel when construction began in 1987. Left unfinished and empty when costs went out of control, the hotel dominates the city’s centre, a symbol of the ambitions and failures of the Kim Jong Il regime’ Farnese(2005) observes.

Ryugyong Hotel

Ryugyong Hotel (Image from: twistedsifter.com)

The grand recreation of the Pyongyang city was regulated by Kim Jong Il who took a specific enthusiasm for city arranging and architecture. The way Kim requested some structures to be set up in a specific area were on the grounds that the perspective was fragmented and hence, restricted. He seems to supports the stupendous scale in structures and landmarks, with both towering over the populace. Most of the monuments of Pyongyang ‘celebrate Kim Jong-Il, his social philosophy, and his government’. Ryukyong Hotel, being a tall pyramid of 105 levels high, was initially intended to be finished in 1989. The construction was halted in the 90’s, mostly due to basic imperfections when concerning the structure of the hotel which also will keep the building from being finished. Unfortunately, Pyongyang was not built and positioned for it’s populace, this was an unavoidable result of pursuing the fantasy of a completely arranged nation.

North Korea - Photo Credit: David Stanley

North Korea – Photo Credit: David Stanley

Landmarks built to the Dictator were not built to be tenable, their only purpose was to be perceived as stupendous and monumental. For example, an imposing 20 meter statue positioned on top of the Mansu Hill seems to envelop the entire city with the wide open arms. North Korea, being a closed country values it’s privacy and greatly filters what the outside world sees. Therefore it is not very surprising just how much money is spent on the monumental architecture of the capital’s centre.

When visiting North Korea for a Pyongyang architectural book fair, Phillip Meuser was given the copyrights for the official photographs to print and describe in his book. In his book, Meuser(2012) described North Korea to be a ‘negative country’ due to the favouring of the modernist and somewhat socialist architectural style. He further describes the streets to be housing ‘flaunt lavish facades of quarried stone while the precast concrete of the pavements is riddled with cracks’. This is mostly due to a massive annihilation of the capital during the Korean War. Interestingly, a contrast between the cracked cement pavements and towering monuments ‘illuminated by perfectly designed lighting systems after dark while private dwellings show barely a light’ is astounding, it’s apparent where the priorities lie.

North Korea - Photo credit. John Pavelka

North Korea – Photo credit. John Pavelka

Generally, the city is shockingly noteworthy and aesthetically pleasing due to Kim being obsessed with demonstrating the force and finesse of his political beliefs and rule. It’s an outstanding display of Socialism’s ability. Outside the city centre however ‘we could clearly make out the concrete hell of socialism where rows of prefabricated housing blocks were pushed up against each other like tombstones in a graveyard’ remarks Neil Woodburn(2007). Pyongyang, without a doubt, is a prime example of totalitarian architecture under total and complete control of a political government.

See Politics through Architecture – Part 2

See Politics through Architecture – Part 1

Words Elizabeth Galiyeva


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