Landmarks in N. Korea
Last December, North Korea’s Stamp Corporation posted a collection of stamps on its website to celebrate the tenth anniversary of leader Kim Jong-un’s rise to power. Entitled “Ushering in an Era of Prosperity in Architecture,” the collection displays stamps issued to commemorate various buildings that were constructed in the country between 2012 and 2022. North Korea has continued to build new structures under the current leader’s rule. Some even say the entire land has turned into a construction site.
Today, we’ll learn about new landmarks in the Kim Jong-un era from Professor Yim Dong-woo from the Department of Urban Engineering at Hongik University.
North Korea says that the country has enjoyed a golden age of juche-or self-reliant architecture since leader Kim Jong-un came to power. In fact, top leaders in the country showed a special interest in architecture.
Historically, people in power have all demonstrated their authority in the form of architecture, which shows their inherent desire for power. Things are not much different in North Korea. During the years of regime founder Kim Il-sung, North Korea thought hard about how to reflect socialist realism in architecture. His son and successor Kim Jong-il wished to highlight his power, with a number of magnificent buildings emerging. In the era of current leader Kim Jong-un, residential apartments have been regarded as symbolic structures. This change is worth noting.
One of the famous buildings that were constructed after Kim Jong-un took power is the Science and Technology Complex located on Ssuk Island on the Taedong River in Pyongyang. The leader showed keen interest in this science and technology center, stressing that it is a greatly significant building that realizes the party’s policy of turning all citizens into specialists in science and technology and shows the juche-oriented art of architecture in the 21st century.
With 100-thousand square meters of floor area, the complex has various halls, including the Hall of Fundamental Science, the Science Research Hall, the Hall of State of the Art Technology and the Hall of Applied Science and Technology.
The Science and Technology Complex is a large, atom-shaped building. In North Korea, there are multiple structures related to science, including a planetarium that takes the shape of the planet Saturn. Rationality and science comprise the basic principles of socialism. That’s why most socialist states think highly of science and technology. In the current Kim Jong-un era, just like during the years of his predecessors, North Korea will likely continue to construct buildings that draw attention to the importance of science.
According to North Korean media, the high-tech science complex is an energy-saving structure that makes good use of solar heat and geothermal power, as seen in its dome-shaped roof made of glass.
Recent North Korean buildings, including the Science and Technology Complex, adopted many eco-friendly elements. North Korean architecture magazines show that the country uses solar and geothermal heat and even animal waste that could produce biogas as a renewable fuel. I guess the country tries hard, in its own way, to use as much as new renewable energy in buildings, due to its chronic energy shortages. Going eco-friendly is actually a global trend, and the North uses this initiative for propaganda.
In the Kim Jong-un era, large multiple complexes equipped with residential space and all sorts of amenities have been built. For example, Changjon Street consisting of a huge collection of residential apartments was completed in the first year of Kim’s rule.
In 2013, Unha(galaxy) Scientists Street opened in the Ryongsong area in Pyongyang for researchers who participated in the development of the Kwangmyongsong satellite. In 2014, North Korea built Wisong(satellite) Scientists Street in Pyongsong, which is referred to as a satellite city of Pyongyang, to accommodate retired researchers and scientists. And the following year, the six-lane Mirae(future) Scientists Street, lined by high-rise apartments that house scientists and their families, emerged as the country’s new landmark.
During the years of former leader Kim Jong-il, the names of streets used words meaning “unification,” “liberation” and “chollima(천리마).” In the Kim Jong-un era, in contrast, the word “scientists” has often been used to name new streets. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the streets are reserved only for scientists. Rather, the names indicate the country’s policy of giving preferential treatment to scientists.
Mirae Scientists Street is an important symbol of the Kim Jong-un era. Previously, North Korea would apply the same architectural design to different buildings. In an apartment complex consisting of ten buildings, for instance, two or three designs were used repeatedly. The buildings in Mirae Scientists Street, on the other hand, all have their own different designs. The street is located on the bank of the Taedong River, with the buildings situated in the downtown area with good transportation. The architectural style began to change from this street, which stands in contrast to old residential buildings in the capital.
In 2017, North Korea completed Ryomyong Street in an area, where structures for promoting the personality cult of top leaders are concentrated. The structures include the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, where the bodies of the late leader Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il lie in state, and the Tower of Immortality.
North Korea praises Ryomyong Street as the symbol of the great Kim Jong-un era and an ideal street, which socialist civilization is condensed into. On an area of 900-thousand square meters, 44 apartment towers were built to house 48-hundred households, with some of the buildings rising as tall as 70 stories and even higher. Analysts say, under Kim Jong-un’s rule, super-tall buildings have been constructed in Pyongyang in a short period of time, changing the skyline of the capital.
Ryomyong Street is a high-end residential area, where many Pyongyang citizens hope to live. Some of residential buildings that were constructed during the previous Kim Jong-il era had few amenities--restaurants at most. This is in stark contrast to buildings in Ryomyong Street, where department store-like commercial facilities meet the needs of local residents who want to spend money. Obviously, Pyongyang’s skyline has changed. It’s a matter of density after all. Newly-developed regions in Pyongyang did not really expand horizontally. The city had no other choice but to build tall residential buildings and this trend seems to continue.
After Kim Jong-un rose to power, North Korea renovated Pyongyang International Airport and Pyongyang Station, in an apparent bid to improve its national image by modernizing the country’s main gateways.
Located in the Sunan District in the capital, Pyongyang International Airport opened a new passenger terminal and Runway 1 in July 2015. At the time, North Korea removed the portrait of Kim Il-sung from the roof of the old airport building and set up giant letter sculptures indicating “Pyongyang” instead. North Korea heightened the building by adding one story to the existing three-stories.
When former South Korean President Moon Jae-in visited North Korea in 2018, Kim Jong-un appeared from an airport building, on which the English word “Terminal 1” was shown.
The most interesting part was the absence of the portrait of Kim Il-sung. The disappearance of the portrait from the airport, where foreigners visit in most cases, reflects North Korea’s intention to modernize and globalize its airport. This might be a small change, but I think it has significant implications.
Only a small number of airlines serve Pyongyang International Airport, which is not large. It will not be easy for the airport, for some time, to grow to be one of the city’s landmarks.
Since Kim Jong-un assumed power, North Korea has developed the Masik ski resort in Gangwon Province and built a number of facilities citizens can use, such as a water park, a horse-riding track and childcare centers in the capital.
To promote the tourism industry, the country has pushed for the creation of the Wonsan-Kalma Coastal tourism area, the Samjiyon resort complex and the Yangdok spa resort. Among them, the Yangdok spa resort opened in January 2020, followed by the completion of the Samjiyon complex. But the construction of the Wonsan-Kalma tourism area, one of the nation’s biggest tourism projects, has yet to be completed. Based on recent satellite photos, U.S.-based North Korea monitoring site 38 North says that a water park, a domed stadium, two hotels and some facilities within the tourism area on the east coast still remain incomplete.
Kim Jong-un has placed emphasis on global trends in architecture.
Analysts say that North Korean buildings that previously looked heavy, serious and authoritarian are changing in a way to look lighter and cheerful.
I’d say that buildings in the Kim Jong-un era are not characterized by any architectural style. One thing is clear, though. The same architectural design is never repeated. This is definitely worth mentioning. Socialist and communism reject diversity and prefer something more reasonable and mechanical. I think the appearance of diverse buildings in the Kim Jong-un era is a very interesting change.
North Korea’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper evaluated the year 2022 as the heyday of construction and showed off leader Kim Jong-un’s achievements in this area. Apparently, the paper highlights Kim as a leader who loves his people and cares for the requisites of their lives, such as food, clothing and shelter.
Under Kim’s rule, North Korea has constructed high-rise residential buildings, which have taken root as the country’s new landmarks. Some analysts say that the North boasts this particular part in order to allay public jitters over difficulties inside and outside the nation.