Ideas on architecture and geopolitics for the Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang

A selection of images and other information, with the call for ideas,
regarding Hotel Ryugyong will be soon available on Domus’s website.

1. call for ideas
Domus magazine, in collaboration with the Department of Architecture and
Society at the Milan Polytechnic, is promoting a consultation of ideas
for the completion and functional redefinition of the Ryugyong Hotel
building in Pyongyang, capital of North Korea.

2. a concrete pyramid
Begun in 1987 to mark the occasion of the world youth games, and to this
day unfinished (apparently for financial reasons), the Ryugyong Hotel is
a pyramid 330 metres high. It has a Y-shaped base and stands on a hill
at the centre of Pyongyang. When operative, the building was to house
the 105 floors of an international hotel, a rounded slab of services on
the ground floor, and three sloping elevators along the pyramid’s
oblique lateral walls, plus a series of rings to contain revolving
restaurants at the apex.

3. constructional utopia
The pyramidal hotel building, in prestressed reinforced concrete (a test
was carried out in 1992 in Skopje, Macedonia)1, was interrupted at the
roughcasting stage. Today, though not completed, it is the city’s
principal landmark, visible from all points of its territory. (2)

4. retroactive globalisation
No other pyramidal constructions on a similar scale exist in Korean and
Asian architecture. The architects’ memory seems to have turned not only
to the Egyptian pyramids, but more especially towards the imaginary
architecture produced by western movies and comic strips throughout the
20th century.

5. city-set
An offspring of the cinema, the Ryugyong Hotel is in its turn the
fulcrum of a city re-founded on cinematographic principles. It is a city
designed in one blow, after it had been razed to the ground in 1952. An
urban plan based on stage wings, very high monuments and wide empty
spaces. A set brought back to life daily when the axes of the capital
city’s symmetrical frame and spectacular perspectives are viewed by its
citizen-extras as they parade along its broad avenues.

6. Wireless
Directly linked to the imaginary world of western science fiction and
fantastic literature (also and perhaps primarily because it is not
finished), the pyramid is thus truly an antenna of the world’s imaginary
urban future. A concrete and symbolic counterpoint to the policy of
political, economic and cultural isolation that has characterised North
Korea over the past decade.

7. ruin of the future
Despite its explicit symbolic debt to western imagination (in its turn
the advocate of a caricatured version of ancient European and African
sacred architecture), the pyramid is today looked upon as one of the
principal symbols of North Korea’s nuclear arms policy. The genuine ruin
of an unrealised future, the pyramid has today become a potential
military target.

8. catalyst of visions
Domus believes that the Ryugyong Hotel concrete pyramid – a
constructional utopia, symbolic breach and urban landmark rolled into
one – can today become a catalyst of ideas and visions for the future of
Pyongyang. But it could also be the hub of new exchanges between
contemporary imagination in the visual arts and architecture. Aside from
all geopolitical, ideological or military obstacles.

9. the future of a ruin
Domus and the Department of Architecture and Society at the Milan
Polytechnic invite architects, designers, students, researchers and
artists from all parts of the world to develop ideas on architecture and
geopolitics for the concrete pyramid in Pyongyang. The aim is to decide
whether to envisage it as an immense sculpture or as an infrastructure
onto which to graft new services. Or whether, instead, to propose a
different role for it – as a museum of fantastic imaginary scenarios, a
new Tower of Babel, or a great culture palace… Domus and the Department
of Architecture and Society at the Milan Polytechnic invite readers to
reflect on the prospects of a ruin with an unfulfilled future.

10. a bombardment of ideas
Your ideas, in the form of verbal or graphic entries (drawings,
photomontages, videos, diagram etc) must be sent to Domus’s website (see for more information) no later
than 30 September 2005. Material received will be published on the site,
sent to the North Korean Embassy in Rome and to the Korean Architects
Union in Pyongyang. A selection of ideas received will be published in
Domus and exhibited in a touring exhibition. The consultation may also
constitute the basic material for an international architectural design
competition to relaunch the Ryugyong Hotel.

1. Lj. Tashkov, M. Petkovski, L. Krstevska, D. Mamucevski, Research
Study for Evaluation of Seismic Resistance of the 105-Storey Ryugyong
Hotel in Pyongyang, DPR Korea, Vol. 4: Shaking Table Test of 1/40 Scale
Model of the Building, IZIIS Report 92-06
2. A selection of images and other information regarding Hotel Ryugyong
is available on Domus’s website (