Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea in 2009. Photo: Reuters.

'Apocalyptic hotel' in North Korea


In 1987, the Ryugyong Hotel was started construction in Pyongyang and is expected to open two years later, but this has never been true.

Ryugyong is named after a nickname in Pyongyang's history, which means "capital of willow trees". By design, this pyramid-shaped skyscraper is about 305 meters high, including at least 3,000 rooms and 5 restaurants with panoramic views.

The hotel consists of three wings, each with a slope of 75 degrees, converging into a cone. The top 15 floors are expected to open restaurants and podiums. The pyramid shape is not only aesthetically effective, but also because Ryugyong does not use steel but concrete.

Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea in 2009. Photo: Reuters.

"The building is built like that because the upper part needs to be lighter. Because it doesn't use advanced construction materials and is completely concrete, the base has to be massive with a conical top to make the building look slim," the architecture said. Singapore professor Calvin Chua, who worked with North Korean colleagues, explained, adding that the Ryugyong hotel seems to be designed in the shape of a mountain, not a pyramid, because the mountain plays a symbolic role. in this country.

"This is an iconic building. But I think it's important that its connection with the entire capital of Pyongyang. The building is like a kind of monument. In Rome, Italy, the monument in Quang In addition to the iconic St. Peter's school, it also became a leading milestone in the city.

The building reached its planned height in 1992, but 16 years later there was no window, covered with bare concrete and abandoned. During this time, the striking building in the North Korean capital was nicknamed the "apocalyptic hotel".

Ryugyong was the product of the Cold War competition between Korea, a US-backed country, and North Korea, a Soviet-backed country.. A year before the construction of the building, South Korea's Ssangyong Group completed Westin Stamford, the tallest hotel in the world at that time in Singapore. In addition, the Korean capital Seoul is also ready to host the 1988 Summer Olympics.

In response to the moves of Seoul, Pyongyang decided to host the World Youth and Student Festival in 1989, and planned to build Ryugyong on the occasion of this event to break the record of neighboring countries. male. However, due to technical problems, the project was not completed on time to serve the festival.

Pyongyang has spent huge budgets on the event, constructing new stadiums, expanding the capital's airport and opening new routes. The plan put an additional burden on North Korea's weak economy, while the collapse of the Soviet Union caused the country to lose important aid and investment. North Korea then fell into an economic crisis. Although the structure outside the Ryugyong hotel was completed, construction was delayed in 1992.

In 2008, after 16 years of pause, the construction of the Ryugyong hotel was unexpectedly resumed as part of an agreement with Orascom, the Egyptian corporation signed a contract to build a 3G network with North Korea. The rusty old crane on the roof of the building for the last two decades was finally relocated. With the support of Egyptian engineers, the workers installed glass and metal panels into concrete structures at a cost of US $ 180 million, creating a flashy new look for the building.

The project was completed in 2011, sparking speculation about the hotel opening. By the end of 2012, the German luxury hotel group Kempinski said Ryugyong would be partially operational under their management in mid-2013. However, Kempinski later retracted the statement a few months later, explaining that Market entry here "is currently impossible."

Rumors that the building had a weak structure due to poor construction techniques and materials once again exploded. "Seen from outside the building looks solid, but the internal structure is different," says architect Chua.

"I think the real problem is probably the interior installation. Because the building is made of concrete, it takes a lot of time to adjust the necessary services and ventilation, which is installed according to the specifications. engineering in the 1980s. This will be easier with a steel structure, "explains Chua.

Simon Cockerell, general manager of Koryo Group, a North Korean tour company based in Beijing, China, is one of the few foreigners who have ever been to the Ryugyong hotel. The image he recorded in 2012 shows a lot of work to be done.

Inside the Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang in 2012. Photo: Simon Cockerell.

Inside the Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang in 2012. Photo: Simon Cockerell.

"First, the project manager introduced it to us, with the videos made a long time ago. After that, they took us to the lobby area, where a lot of cement was exposed, then we left. moving upward, seems to be the 99th floor. This process takes a long time due to the use of a freight elevator, not a modern elevator with a chain of buttons, "says Cockerell.

Ryugyong made headlines back in 2018 when led lighting was installed on the facade, turning the building into Pyongyang's largest lighting show. Each 4-minute program will recreate Korean history and show a series of political slogans, while the top of the building bears a national flag.

"The show was really impressive at first sight, especially after years of buildings hidden in the dark," says Will Ripley's CNN for good. "They perform whenever there is a big event in the city, but not always the lights go on, probably because of power savings."

In recent years, a lot of work has been done in the area around the hotel, allowing people to walk right in front of the entrance, but not inside. In June 2018, the building hung a "Ryugyong Hotel" sign in Korean and English.

However, opening the hotel is still an open question. "It's hard to guess because the building is covered with glass and can't look inside," Cockerell said. "Obviously something is happening. This is a very large hotel, so the part of it being able to be opened before the whole building goes into operation is not overly imaginable."

The installation of LEDs is also likely to signal that the government has a plan for the building's future. "I think the North Korean government certainly wants to do something about the building. For many years, the building was considered a shameful 'thorn', especially before the glass cover. In my opinion, if the building is completed, good, it will be widely recognized as a proud center of the capital, "the reporter Ripley said.

The Ryugyong Hotel is no longer the tallest building in the Korean peninsula. In 2017, Korea completed the Lotte World Tower in Seoul with a height of nearly 240 meters beyond Ryugyong. However, it is still the tallest building in North Korea, although high-rise apartment buildings are appearing more and more in Pyongyang, with the tallest building 60 meters below Ryugyong.

"I personally think it would be very interesting to look inside and go to the top. I am sure the vision is wonderful," Ripley said. To date, Ryugyong is still the tallest abandoned building in the world.

Light show at Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang in 2018. Photo: AFP.

Light show at Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang in 2018. Photo: AFP.

Luster (Follow CNN)


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