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The tallest unfinished building in the world, North Korea’s Hotel of Doom.

Petar Djajkovski

The plan for the Ryugyong Hotel was great. With its 105 floors, it was to be the tallest hotel in the world. If it was completed and opened as scheduled that is. Which didn’t happen, but if it did it would have surpassed the Swissôtel The Stamford in Singapore the actual champion in tall hotels category at the time. Apart from that the tallest hotel title, which this hotel never acquired, it managed to be the first building in the world outside of New York and Chicago with more than 100 floors.

Apart from that the tallest hotel title, which this hotel never acquired, it managed to be the first building in the world outside of New York and Chicago with more than 100 floors.

Construction began in the Cold War era in 1987 as a response of the wave of high-rise development of the West of Europe and Asia. This was North Korea’s attempt to start communicating with the Western world.

Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea – Author: Uwe Brodrecht – CC BY 2.0

Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea – Author: Uwe Brodrecht – CC BY 2.0

The plan was to attract foreign investors, mostly from western Europe and US into the Korean market. And it was supposed to be done in a very swift manner, as the original opening date was scheduled for June 1989, on the opening day of the 13th World Festival of Youth and Students. What a better way to turn a new page if not through the new generations.

View of the top in September 2008, several months after construction resumed – Author: Mark Scott Johnson – CC BY 2.0

View of the top in September 2008, several months after construction resumed – Author: Mark Scott Johnson – CC BY 2.0

Problems arose from the building design itself at the beginning. It was a bold feat to construct a pyramid sky scraper as the world had never seen before. The architectural firm behind this building was Baikdoosan Architects & Engineers and the style pure modernism. Though many critics and architects, since the beginning of construction and to this day call the hotel very ugly. Materials were the second big problem that delayed sky scraper and the construction came to a halt in 1992.

Ryugyong Hotel in March 2004 – Author: Timur – PD

Ryugyong Hotel in March 2004 – Author: Timur – PD

Since then the building was risen fully from the ground, topped up, but lacking windows and with a completely empty interior. The fall of the Soviet Union didn’t help at all, on the contrary it caused an economic crisis in North Korea. Some outside estimations on the cost of construction until that point say 750 million dollars. Which compared to the North Koreas’s GDP is almost exactly 2 percent of it. At this point in a reportage about the hotel the BBC called the project: “a reminder of the totalitarian state’s thwarted ambition”.

Ryugyong Hotel photo taken on 2004.05.02 – Author: 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia – CC BY 2.0

Ryugyong Hotel photo taken on 2004.05.02 – Author: 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia – CC BY 2.0

Since construction on the Ryugyong Hotel resumed in 2008 and by 2011 the exterior has been fully completed by an Egyptian company Orascom Group. Their job consisted mostly of resolving previous problems with construction of the revolving restaurant at the top and salvaging neglected steel, as time takes its toll. They also installed many many glass panels on the exterior walls and provided the building with telecommunication antennas. By the next year photographs of the interior were released for the public, showing fixtures and furnishing of the hotel halls.

Ryugyong Hotel almost fully covered with glass plates / photo taken on 2009.08.01 – Author: 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia – CC BY 2.0

Ryugyong Hotel almost fully covered with glass plates / photo taken on 2009.08.01 – Author: 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia – CC BY 2.0

In the last five years alone, several dates for the official opening were partially announced. One planned for 2012, marking a centenary of Kim Il-Sung’s birth that didn’t happen. Next one, the following year was canceled and unsuccessful as well. Since then and onward the hotel remains the tallest unfinished building in the world.

Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea – Author: Uwe Brodrecht – CC BY 2.0

Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea – Author: Uwe Brodrecht – CC BY 2.0

A report from the late 1990s by the European Union Chamber of Commerce in Korea states that the building structure is irregular and the mistakes made by the engineers are irreparable. Questioning the quality of the concrete used for the construction and the crookedness of the elevator shafts. This said, the question why North Korea still pushed the construction of the hotel afterward is unclear. Add to this the ever rescheduling of the opening date and we might just get to the answer. 

Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea – Author: Uwe Brodrecht – CC BY 2.0

Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea – Author: Uwe Brodrecht – CC BY 2.0

The hotel will probably never be opened and operated as such, but at least they finished the exterior constructions so that it will stand proud in Pyongyang as the biggest monument in the world.