In North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, is located one of the most grotesque buildings in the world, the Ryugyong Hotel. Its pyramidal shape, along with its 105 storeys and 330 meters high, makes it worthy of any retro-futuristic mega-metropolis. But its most bizarre aspect is the fact that it is a colossal ruin, since 1992, when its construction stopped. Since then, in the middle of the urban landscape of Pyongyang, it rises in the morning dew, like a scary ghost.
Construction started in 1987. It is thought that this megalomaniac project was just another propaganda stunt from North Korea’s regime, because, had it been finished in the expected time, it would have been the highest hotel in the world. Among other amazing characteristics, it would have 360 000 m2 of area, 3000 bedrooms, 7 restaurants located on the top (rotating) storeys.
Conceived as a grandiose projection of emerging wealth, the hotel instead became a symbol of North Korea’s hubris and of the state’s failing financial system. At the time, it was estimated that about 750 million dollars would be needed to finish building the project, something along the lines of 2% of the country’s GDP. The North Korean government initially promised to pay for the most part of the expenses. In the meantime, there were some issues with the raw materials, with the energy supply and with the financing. The construction techniques used themselves raised several doubts, especially about the structure’s resistance. Construction ceased in 1992 and that’s how it has remained for the following 16 years.
In Spring 2008, however, construction was resumed. An Egyptian company started to refurbish the hotel’s top floors and glass paneling the facades. However, the doubts about the structure’s resistance remain, especially after 16 years of exposure to weathering, which has left several cracks and corrosions marks. The government’s idea is to have the building finished by 2012, year of the centennial of Kim Il Sung’s (founder of the country) birthday.
For sixteen years, the Ryugyong stood as an uninhabited shell, with a crane on its top levels to present the appearance of ongoing construction. The ongoing construction story was also conveyed by tour guides as an official response to the queries of visitors. Eventually, tour guides demurred or ignored questions about the immense, vacant structure.
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