North Korea may appear to be a dystopian nightmare right out of fiction however, it is a reality for its residents. It is one of the most talked-about countries in regards to its violations of human rights but, the reality of its citizens is mere speculation because of its strict laws. The tourists are allowed as part of organized tours. These tours are restricted in and around the capital city Pyongyang and tourists are not allowed to wander outside their designated itinerary without their guide. Cristiano Bianchi describes the city as, ‘open-air museum of socialist architecture’ in his book Model city of Pyongyang.
Let’s have a look at 15 places an architect might want to include in the guided tour.
1. Kim II Sung square
The city of Pyongyang and its architecture projects the fictional reality of life inside this isolated country. The perception around the world is that it must look like a soviet-era grey city, but you are puzzled when you experience colorful buildings around. Kim II Sung square was constructed in 1954 and named after the country’s founder as a place of great cultural significance. Set in the center of the city with Grand people’s library on one end and Juche Tower on the other end. The river setting gives it a dramatic backdrop for rallies, parades, and other cultural events.
2. Kumsusan Palace of the Sun
The building was constructed in 1976 and was the official residence of Kim II Sung. After his death, it was converted into his mausoleum by his son in 1994. It houses his sarcophagus and all his possessions. The adjoining rooms consist of paintings, large pictures with world leaders, and all the gifts he received while on tours. You might find residents grieving there as it is a place of great significance.
3. Juche Tower
Located on the south end of the Kim II sung square adjoining river Taedong, it represents the Juche ideology of North Korea. The word Juche means self-reliant. The idea was introduced by Kim II Sung, who wanted to establish a self-contained nation that could achieve true socialism. The tower’s design is inspired by pagodas and made out of stone with a metal torch on the top. At the base, you can find a bronze statue of a worker, farmer, and academic holding the party emblem.
4. Grand people’s study house
The library is situated in the center of the city on the northern end of the Kim II Sing square. It has acted as a background to various rallies and parades. The design of the building is inspired by traditional Korean Architecture with a curved roof covered in tiles and a structure supported on posts.
5. Arch of triumph
The arch was built in 1982 to commemorate the victory against the Japanese rule. The design is inspired by the Parisian counterpart Arc de Triomphe. The arch is built from white granite with bronze decorations. It comprises four vaulted gateways with various observation decks and rooms.
6. Mansudae Art theater
The brutalist building with decorative elements built-in 1978 is the most famous theater in North Korea. It is known for hosting revolutionary operas, musicals, and various dance performances. It is located just along with the Grand people’s study house.
7. Electronics industry Hall
The electronics industry hall is a part of three revolutions exhibitions which showcase the three revolutionary concepts of Kim II Sung; the ideological, technical, and the cultural. The building design is also inspired by these revolutionary concepts, as these are the guiding principles of the worker’s party. The exhibition itself is housed in the horizontal part with the planet shaped dome comprising the planetarium.
8. Central Youth Hall
The hall was built in 1989 after a design competition which was judged by Kim Jong II. The winning design housed a red roof that resembled a piano and an accordion in shape. It is the central location for youth festivals with two theaters, a multipurpose hall, and various meeting rooms.
9. Pyongyang Ice Rink
The design of the ice rink is inspired by the design of the Cathedral of Brasilia. The similarities can be noticed in the structures which are both hyperbolic with concrete columns. The inspiration may have been a reflective building but, the end turns out to be brutalist.
10. May Day Stadium
May Day stadium is built on Rungra Island and is the largest stadium in the world in terms of seating capacity. The design of the stadium is inspired by the Magnolia blossom, with 16 arches forming a ring. It was launched on 1st May 1989 and is famous for hosting sports and gymnastic events. The book Pyongyang the model city, describes its interior as ‘original traditional interior has been replaced by a saturated palette of pastel colors.’
11. Unha Tower
The 53-storey tower located on Mirae street or the future scientist street is one of the tallest buildings in the city and encompasses the futuristic goals of Kim Jung II. This street stands in contrast with the rest of Pyongyang as the architecture style moves from the Soviet-era greyness to futuristic modern architecture. The design of the building is inspired by an atom that is starched upwards.
12. Ryugyong Hotel
The hotel is infamously known as the ‘Hotel of Doom’. The construction began in 1987 and reached its planned height in 1992. But after that, it stood as a naked concrete structure for nearly 16 years before any glass or window was added to it. This pyramid inspired obelisk is the world’s largest abandoned structure. The outside may have been cladded with glass, but the interior remains untouched and barely completed. Now it is installed with LEDs that are used for projection on important days.
13. Mansu hill grand monument
One of the most sacred places in the city where the rulers are immortalized with giant bronze statues. On either side, there are 228 bronze figures with flags that symbolize the socialist revolution against imperialist rule. The building behind the giant statues houses the Korean revolution museum.
14. Tomb of King Tongmyŏng
The tomb was granted world heritage status by UNESCO in 2004 as a part of the Complex of Goguryeo Tombs. It is a mausoleum with 63 total tombs and a royal tomb of King Togmyong. The complex is a tumulus with a stone block base. The tomb consists of three parts: the inner chamber, a front chamber, and a gallery. The paintings and depictions inside are of Buddhist descent.
15. Worker party foundation monument
The monument consists of a hammer, a sickle, and a calligraphy brush to symbolize the people of North Korea. It was built in 1950 to mark the 50th anniversary of the party. It is surprisingly surrounded by colorful buildings, the two red residential buildings that form an axis from the Mansu hill monument to the worker party foundation monument were originally white but then painted to red to make the markings on their rooftops stand out.