Pyongyang, a city of 3.2 million people, has a long history, but it was largely rebuilt after the Korean War (called the “American War” in North Korea) by the newly founded Communist government, which intended it to be a model city for a new society. North Korean society is built around “juche ideology,” a homegrown form of socialism based on self-reliance, and it infuses everything in the city, especially the architecture. “On Architecture,” an essay by Kim Jong Il, who ruled from 1994 to 2011, sets out juche-informed rules regarding axis, control of heights, framing of space and so on, and they are recognizable everywhere in the city. 

Still, different architectural phases are noticeable in the city, from an early radical, brutalist period to the modernist and postmodern, up to the new developments created under the current leader, Kim Jong Un, where pastel colors and futuristic shapes are applied to super high-rise buildings, in a retro science-fiction style.

Architects have long dreamed of such “total planning,” so it was not difficult for us to fall in love with this city. We wanted to reveal to the world its beauty, a beauty of a different kind, to be preserved when a necessary and inevitable change will eventually occur. In the last four years, the initial fascination we had as architects slowly transformed into empathy for a city with such a strong and peculiar cultural identity, and especially for its people, for whom we hope the future will unfold for the better.