Architecture and City Planning

Architecture and City Planning

Arguably the most distinct and impressive form of contemporary cultural expression in North Korea is architecture and city planning. P'yongyang, almost completely destroyed during the Korean War, has been rebuilt on a grand scale. Many new buildings have been constructed during the 1980s and 1990s in order to enhance P'yongyang's status as a capital.

Major structures are divided architecturally into three categories: monuments, buildings that combine traditional Korean architectural motifs and modern construction, and high-rise buildings of a totally modern design. Examples of the first include the Ch'llima Statue; a twenty-meter high bronze statue of Kim Il Sung in front of the Museum of the Korean Revolution (itself, at 240,000 square meters, one of the largest structures in the world); the Arch of Triumph (similar to its Parisian counterpart, although a full ten meters higher); and the Tower of the Chuch'e Idea, 170 meters high, built on the occasion of Kim's seventieth birthday in 1982. According to a North Korean publication, the tower is covered with 25,550 pieces of granite, each representing a day in the life of the "great leader."

The second architectural category makes special use of traditional tiled roof designs and includes the People's Culture Palace and the People's Great Study Hall, both in P'yongyang, and the International Friendship Exhibition Hall at Myohyang-san. The latter building displays gifts given to Kim Il Sung by foreign dignitaries. In light of Korea's tributary relationship to China during the Chosn Dynasty, it is significant that the section of the hall devoted to gifts from China is the largest.

The third architectural category includes high-rise apartment complexes and hotels in the capital. The most striking of these buildings is the Ryugong Hotel, still unfinished in the early 1990s, and noted by some observers to be clearly leaning and perhaps not able to be completed. Described as the world's tallest hotel at 105 stories, its triangular shape looms over north-central P'yongyang. The Kory Hotel is an ultramodern, twin-towered structure forty-five stories high.

A flurry of construction occurred before celebrations of Kim Il Sung's eightieth birthday, including the building of apartment complexes and the Reunification Expressway, a four-lane road connecting the capital and the Demilitarized Zone. According to a journalist writing in the Far Eastern Economic Review, the highway is "an impressive piece of engineering" that "cuts a straight path through mountainous terrain with 21 tunnels and 23 bridges on the 168 kilometers route to P'anmunjm." As in many other construction projects, the military provided the labor.

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