North Korea might be the last place in the world you would want to visit in the current political climate, but officials in the country’s capital have chosen this week to unveil the latest renovations to its landmark hotel.
Towering over the rest of Pyongyang, the Hotel of Doom, as it has been dubbed by Western media, is a futuristic but failed pyramid-shaped 105-storey hotel – and the world’s tallest unoccupied building.
After decades of delays and embarrassing rumours that the building may not even be structurally sound, there are signs that construction work might once again begin on the vanity project.
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Walls that had surrounded the property to keep people out were pulled down around the anniversary of the Korean Armistice Agreement on July 27, according to the AP news agency.Well, one big red propaganda sign, to be exact, spotted outside the property, which reads Rocket Power Nation.
Their absence revealed two broad new walkways leading to the building and the aforementioned sign.
The day after the armistice anniversary, North Korea tested its second ICBM, which experts believe demonstrated that the North’s weapons can now theoretically reach most of the United States.
For more than a week leading up to the anniversary, a major holiday in North Korea, soldier-builders at the site in central Pyongyang were clearly visible behind the walls, along with heavy equipment for digging and brightly coloured propaganda billboards that are a staple at North Korean construction sites and intended to boost morale.
Rumours, almost always unfounded, of plans to finally finish the hotel are something of a parlour game among Pyongyang watchers.
It remains to be seen if the current work on the Ryugyong is intended to be a step toward actually completing the project or, more likely, an effort to make better use of the land around it.
At Kim’s orders, several major high-rise areas have been completed, including one with a 70-storey tower, and dozens of other tall buildings in the capital’s Ryomyong, or dawn, district, have gone up. Pyongyang also has a new international airport, a massive sci-tech complex with a main building shaped like a giant atom, and other recreational and educational facilities.
Pyongyang has been undergoing massive redevelopment since Kim Jong Un assumed power in late 2011.
How Kim can afford to pay for the construction boom, and his significantly accelerated testing of multimillion-dollar missiles, is a mystery, but has led many to point the finger at China, by far North Korea’s biggest trading partner, for not doing enough to turn the economic screws on its neighbour.
From a distance, the glassy, greenish-blue Ryugyong looks like it’s ready for business. But it is believed to be far from complete inside and possibly even structurally unsafe.
Work on the building started in 1987 while Kim’s grandfather Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s founder and eternal president, was still alive. It was supposed to open in 1989 and would have been the world’s tallest hotel, surpassing another in Singapore that was built by a South Korean company.
But a severe economic crash and famines in the 1990s left North Korea in no position to pump funds into the hotel’s construction, and it remained little more than a concrete shell for well over a decade before Egypt’s Orascom Group – which was also key in establishing North Korea’s cellphone system helped pay for work to complete the building’s shiny exterior in 2011.