In the heart of Pyongyang, North Korea, stands a truly mysterious marvel – the Ryugyong Hotel, famously known as the "Hotel of Doom." This enormous pyramid-shaped skyscraper has captivated the world's curiosity for years. It symbolizes both North Korea's aspirations and struggles. Exploring the secrets of this intriguing building, we gather insights from various sources to unveil the captivating tale behind the Ryugyong Hotel.
The Ryugyong Hotel: An Ambitious Vision
Back in 1987, North Korea took on a big challenge: building the Ryugyong Hotel, a symbol of the nation's greatness. This pyramid-shaped skyscraper soared to over 1,000 feet and was meant to hold a whopping 3,000 rooms. Plus, it had five revolving restaurants that treated visitors to stunning views of Pyongyang.
The aim was bold: finish this incredible building in a mere two years. But as we delve into the history of the Ryugyong Hotel, we find that the journey to its completion was marked by difficulties and obstacles.
The beginnings of the Ryugyong Hotel can be linked to the Cold War tensions between North and South Korea. Back in 1986, a South Korean company constructed the Westin Stamford in Singapore, which was then the tallest hotel globally. South Korea was also preparing to host the 1988 Summer Olympics, marking its shift toward becoming a capitalist democracy.
In retaliation, North Korea hosted the 1989 World Festival of Youth and Students, a socialist counterpart to the Olympics. Their ambitious scheme was to finish the Ryugyong Hotel before this event, stealing the world record from South Korea. But, as we'll soon learn, the journey to completion was anything but easy.
The Concrete Monolith
The Ryugyong Hotel stands out for its pyramid shape, and it's not just a random design choice. Unlike typical skyscrapers with steel frames, this hotel was mostly built with reinforced concrete. This decision wasn't about looks, but out of sheer necessity.
Calvin Chua, an architect from Singapore, points out that North Korea had restricted access to advanced construction materials, making concrete the go-to option. The hotel's distinctive shape wasn't just for looks; it was crucial for stability. This choice showcased the nation's heavy reliance on concrete, a common building material shared among communist states due to technology exchange.
Building the Ryugyong Hotel was a rollercoaster of progress and long delays. By 1992, the structure had reached its planned height, but inside, it was far from finished. North Korea's economic difficulties, worsened by the fall of the Soviet Union, created huge hurdles for the project. Construction stopped, leaving behind a deserted concrete giant with a crane sitting on top.
Surprisingly, in 2008, after 16 years of inactivity, work on the hotel restarted, thanks to a partnership with Orascom, an Egyptian company tasked with building North Korea's 3G network. The old, rusty crane that had stood there for two decades was finally taken down. With the help of Egyptian engineers, workers carefully covered the concrete structure with glass panels, spending $180 million in the process. This transformation turned the hotel into a stylish, contemporary building.
The Elusive Opening of The Ryugyong Hotel
Even with construction back on track, doubts lingered about whether the Ryugyong Hotel would ever welcome guests. In 2012, there was a spark of optimism when the German luxury hotel group Kempinski revealed plans to partially oversee the Ryugyong, aiming for an opening in mid-2013. Yet, this hope quickly faded when Kempinski pulled out of the project, stating that entering the market was "not currently possible."
Rumors continue to circulate about the building's structural integrity, with some suggesting that subpar construction techniques and materials have jeopardized its safety. Photos from 2012 showed limited advancements inside the hotel, indicating substantial work still ahead. The difficulty lies in updating the concrete structure with modern conveniences, a task that would be much simpler with a building framed in steel.
Beyond its massive scale and unique architecture, the Ryugyong Hotel carries significant meaning in North Korean symbolism. Some argue that its design, resembling a mountain more than a typical pyramid, connects to the nation's deep respect for mountains. Mount Paektu, the highest peak in the Korean peninsula, holds immense importance in North Korean culture and is featured in the country's emblem. This suggests that the hotel's symbolism goes deeper, playing a meaningful role in the overall cityscape of Pyongyang.
In recent times, the hotel has taken on a new life. In 2018, LED lights were added to its exterior, turning the building into a mesmerizing nighttime display. A four-minute program showcasing North Korea's history and political slogans is played on the LED screens, while the pointed top displays a huge North Korean flag. This innovative use of the hotel highlights its function as a propaganda tool, captivating the city's residents during significant events.
The Unanswered Question
As the Ryugyong Hotel towers over Pyongyang's skyline, it remains an enigma, defying our typical understanding. Its present condition remains shrouded in mystery, hidden behind layers of glass and concrete. The lingering question is whether this immense structure will ever welcome the public inside.
The Ryugyong Hotel no longer holds the title of the tallest building in the Korean peninsula, a distinction now belonging to Seoul's Lotte World Tower, finished in 2017. Although North Korea has seen the emergence of tall residential towers, the Ryugyong still stands as the tallest in the capital city.
For a long time, North Korea's government appeared to erase the hotel from official photos of Pyongyang. However, the installation of LED lights hints at a potential plan for its future.
A Window into North Korea
The Ryugyong Hotel provides a distinct glimpse into North Korea's mysterious realm. Although its completion hangs in uncertainty, its symbolism and place in Pyongyang's scenery keep changing. Whether it's viewed as a stunning architectural feat or an extravagant venture, the Ryugyong Hotel fascinates all who see it. Its tale remains one of intrigue, ambition, and the enduring enigmas of North Korea's history and current times.
The Ryugyong Hotel, known as North Korea's "Hotel of Doom," stands as a lasting symbol of ambition, struggle, and mystery. Its pyramid shape, built with reinforced concrete, represents a fusion of necessity and symbolism. Although its completion hangs in uncertainty, the hotel's use as a canvas for propaganda and its commanding presence in Pyongyang's skyline are undeniable. Contemplating the mysteries enveloping this enormous structure, we are reminded of the intrigue that lies at its core.